QUARTERBACK: Starter -- Vinny Testaverde. Backups -- Tony Romo, Drew Henson.
The stunning training camp release of Quincy Carter has put the Cowboys offense in the hands of 40-year old quarterback Vinny Testaverde.
The 16-year veteran was brought to serve as insurance in case Carter faltered. Well, the Cowboys made an insurance claim early. Testaverde certainly looks up to the task. He knows the offense cold and still throws the ball like he did 20 years ago. He will turn 41 midway through the season. The question now is whether the Cowboys need insurance in case Testaverde doesn't hold up. Henson was very impressive in training camp, proving worthy of the quarterback of the future moniker, but Tony Romo likely claimed the back up role with a stand out performance in the Cowboys win over Kansas City in the final game of the preseason.
RUNNING BACKS: Starter -- RB Eddie George, FB Richie Anderson. Backups -- RB Julius Jones, RB ReShard Lee, FB Jamar Martin, FB Darian Barnes.
Jones was next up in the search for Emmitt Smith's successor. The rookie from Notre Dame has the toughness to run inside and the speed to go the distance. However, his ascension to the thrown was put on hold by the addition of the veteran George. He is a proven runner who will get 12 to 15 carries a game and allow Jones to be brought along slowly. Look for the speedy Jones to serve as a change of pace in a tandem with the power running George. Anderson will also help out by playing more running back than fullback this year. He will serve as the third-down back and be part of the running back committee that will also include Lee. The bulldozing Martin will take over as the primary lead blocker.
TIGHT END/H-BACK: Starter -- TE Dan Campbell. Backups -- Jason Witten, Jeff Robinson, Sean Ryan.
The Cowboys are pretty much set at tight end as any team in the league. Campbell is a standout run blocker and Witten could be an emerging star. He was a big part of the Cowboys pass offense at the end of last year and his role as a pass catcher will only increase in his sophomore year. Look for he and Keyshawn Johnson to give Testaverde two solid options on third down. Ryan will make the team as run blocker and special teams ace.
WIDE RECIEVERS: Starters -- WR Keyshawn Johnson, WR Terry Glenn. Backups -- Antonio Bryant, Randal Williams, Dedric Ward, Zuriel Smith, Patrick Crayton.
There is no question that the presence of Keyshawn Johnson has improved the Cowboys receiver corps. He is a standout blocker and his size and toughness gives Testaverde a chain-moving target on third down. Johnson, who is motivated to prove John Gruden and the Buccaneers wrong for firing him last season, should complement the outside speed of Bryant and Glenn. Ward gives the Cowboys an experienced fourth receiver who can also return kicks on special teams.
OFFENSIVE LINE: Starters -- LT Flozell Adams, LG Larry Allen, C Al Johnson, RG Andre Gurode, RT Torrin Tucker. Backups -- G Tyson Walter, T Kurt Vollers, T Jacob Rogers, G/C Matt Lehr, G Stephen Peterman.
Last season the offensive line had four question marks and Pro Bowl left tackle Flozell Adams. This year the line is much improved. Allen is in much better condition than he was a year ago and should have a bounce back season. Johnson has recovered from the knee that sidelined him a year ago and should be an upgrade at center over Matt Lehr. Johnson, however, will split time with Tyson Walter who has earned playing. Gurode has improved immensely. The only question is at right tackle where Tucker has held off the struggling Rogers. Both will plays.
DEFENSIVE LINE: Starters -- DE Greg Ellis, DT Leo Carson, DT La'Roi Glover, DE Marcellus Wiley Backups -- DE Erik Ogbogu, DT Shaun Smith, DT Daleroy Stewart, DT Jermaine Brooks, DE Kenyon Coleman.
The Cowboys brought in Marcellus Wiley to upgrade the pass rush. He hasn't looked the part of a catalytic pass rusher. However, he is an improvement over the departed Ebenezer Ekuban. If Wiley doesn't get double digit sacks, his presence might allow Ellis or Glover might do it. Ellis has led the Cowboys in sacks the past two years. And Glover, a four time Pro Bowler, has 11.5 sacks the past two seasons, giving him 61.5 since the start of the 1997 season. Carson played better than the departed Willie Blade last season and will have no problem being the permanent replacement.
LINEBACKERS: Starters--LB Dexter Coakley MLB Dat Nguyen, SLB Al Singleton. Backups -- Keith O'Neil, Bradie James, Keith O'Neil, Scott Shanle, Kalen Thornton.
Parcells grew to love Nguyen (5-11, 243) and Coakley (5-10, 236) last season. Nguyen (140 tackles) and Coakley (110) were the leading tacklers on the league's No. 1 defense -- big reasons the Cowboys allowed only 253.5 yards per game. However, he still prefers bigger linebackers, which is why James was being given an equal shot at replacing the three-time Pro Bowler Coakley at weak-side linebacker. Either way, look for those two to split time at the position. They are set on the other side with Singleton, who, at 6-2, 228, better fits Parcells' mold. Singleton made 57 tackles, a sack, two interceptions and seven quarterback pressures in his first season in Dallas. Thornton has earned a spot as the nickel pass rusher.
DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters -- CB Terence Newman, CB Pete Hunter, FS Roy Williams, SS Darren Woodson. Backups -- S Tony Dixon, S Keith Davis, S Lynn Scott, CB Jameel Powell, CB Bruce Thornton, CB Nathan Jones.
Roy Williams, the eighth pick in 2002, was a defensive player of the year candidate and a Pro Bowler after finishing fourth on the team with 86 tackles last season. With Woodson out for the first two games and maybe longer with a back injury, Williams will have to be even better in 2004. The inexperienced and unproven Dixon is currently set to fill in for Woodson. The Cowboys like his potential but are not yet sure he can hold up. Terence Newman, the fifth overall pick in the 2003 draft, certainly lived up to his rookie hype. He had a team-leading four interceptions, including three in a game against the Redskins on Dec.14. He too will have to be even better this season as the Cowboys will have new, unproven starter on the other side in Hunter, who beat Thornton and Powell by default. Neither one stepped up. But Hunter is more experienced but is still a liability.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Starters --PK Billy Cundiff, P Mat McBriar, LS Jeff Robinson, PR/KR Patrick Crayton, KR Julius Jones.
Kicker Billy Cundiff and deep snapper Jeff Robinson were the only sure things right now on special teams. Cundiff was 23 of 29 in 2003 with three field goals of at least 50 yards last season. Cundiff tied the NFL record with seven field goals, including a 52-yarder on the final play of regulation in a 35-32 overtime victory over the Giants.
But that was before he struggled in training camp. He will survive however because his competitor Matt Bryant strained his hamstring late in camp. Cundiff however, will be on a short leash. Robinson is simply the league's best deep snapper. The Cowboys like the strong-legged Mat McBriar's chances of being a huge upgrade over the disappointing Toby Gowin from last season, which actually shouldn't be much of a stretch considering Gowin's failures. Crayton was drafted with returns in mind.
Post Camp Unit by Unit Analysis
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