Following last year's surprisingly strong performance, expectations for the Cowboys were high -- perhaps too high, but most observers expected more than the 3-6 mark the team has put up this year. Parcells has tried to get through to his players, but mental errors and penalties clearly have frustrated the team's second-year coach, who called his team "stupid" after a loss to Cincinnati two weeks ago.
But his patience also seems to be wearing thin with the media. The number of reporters showing up at his daily press conferences seems to be growing, and it's clear that there's one topic at the top of most reporters' lists: when will Drew Henson play?
Parcells has treated Henson differently than many coaches treat their backup quarterbacks. In many cases, the backup quarterbacks are rarely more than fill-ins who take a few reps in practice when the starter needs a rest. But Dallas starter Vinny Testaverde doesn't need as many reps in practice as many starting quarterbacks, which allows more time for the coaches to work with, and evaluate, the backups. A few weeks ago, Henson was elevated from the No. 3 position to No. 2, and Parcells said Henson's progress is evident.
"Obviously, he knows the system better," Parcells said. "He knows how we structure gameplans, how we study opponents. It's obvious that some of the information he has now, there's no way he could have had it coming out of training camp."
Nevertheless, Parcells said, now is not the time to throw Henson in the lineup.
"I've tried to explain this 50 different ways," Parcells said. "I don't think the circumstances, right at this moment, are conducive for (Henson) to be successful.
"People ask me 'what have you got to lose (by playing Henson)?' What you've got to lose is the player. It would be like taking a young fighter who's had five or six bouts and putting him in with Arturo Gotti -- it might not go so good."
Henson, who arrived in Dallas with much fanfare but clearly recognizes his place in the pecking order, is saying nothing to rock the proverbial boat, but he's confident that he's ready if called upon.
"I'm confident in what I can do," Henson said. "Any chance to play in this league is a great chance."
Some have speculated that the team is handling Henson with extra care because of concern over his psyche after his performance in the New York Yankees' minor-league system prompted him to return to football. Henson said there's no need for such concern.
"I've been through a lot in sports -- I'm a big boy," he said. "I've had some good games, and I've had some bad games, so my confidence is not going to waver. If I come in and have a bad game, I'm not going to be believing that I can't be a good quarterback in this league. You can't get this far in sports without a little resiliency."
Henson's confidence notwithstanding, Parcells is taking extreme care when deciding when to allow Henson to make his NFL debut. Parcells said that playing Henson in a mop-up role in Monday night's loss to Philadelphia would have been a mistake.
"I thought if we put him in there, all he'd see would be Mike (middle linebacker), Sam (strongside linebacker) and strong safety blitzes," Parcells said. "I don't want that to be the way a young player comes into his first game."
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