It's Official ... Sort Of

Dallas head coach Bill Parcells declined again Tuesday to name rookie QB Drew Henson as the Cowboys' starter for Thursday's game, but all indications are that the former Michigan Wolverine and erstwhile New York Yankee will make his first NFL start Thanksgiving Day when the Cowboys host Chicago at Texas Stadium. <BR>

Parcells did not say Henson has earned the job. Instead, he said that a shoulder injury and back spasms suffered by Vinny Testaverde have the veteran QB listed as "questionable" for Thursday's game. If Testaverde can't play, then "circumstances dictate" that Henson would get his first start. He wouldn't say whether Henson might start if Testaverde is healthy, but said that barring a "miraculous recovery" by Testaverde, it looks like Henson will start against the Bears.

"In addition to the shoulder, he also has a back spasm," Parcells said. "Unless there's some dramatic improvement with Vinny, I'd say there's a pretty good chance Drew will play."

Parcells continued to preach that the offense will not be changed for the team's young quarterback, but did reiterate that the gameplan would be tailored to fit what Henson does best. Not surprisingly, the team's second-year head coach declined to elaborate on specifics.

He also said that the team again will try to achieve an offensive balance between running and throwing. Relying solely on the passing game, Parcells said, plays directly into the hands of the Bears, who boast three extremely quick defensive linemen (DEs Alex Brown and Adewale Ogunleye, and rookie DT Tommie Harris) and are coached by first-year head coach Lovie Smith, who began earning his reputation as a defensive coaching wizard after serving as a longtime assistant under Tony Dungy in Tampa Bay, before moving on to St. Louis to re-vamp the Rams' defense.

"The Bears play a pretty similar system to what Tampa Bay played," Parcells said. "The feature a lot of two-deep coverage. Sometimes they'll bring the safety down (toward the line of scrimmage). They'll blitz some, but not an inordinate amount."

Henson said he couldn't predict whether the Bears might increase their blitz package in the hopes of rattling the young passer in his first start. Parcells added that if nothing else, inserting Henson into the lineup will increase the mobility at the quarterback position.

Of course, many of the comments Tuesday by Parcells and Henson included phrases like "if he plays" and "if I get the chance to start" -- suggesting that there's a chance Testaverde will rebound to being healthy enough to give it a shot.

"He can throw a little bit," Parcells said of Testaverde, but added throwing a little did not mean he is ready to play, and that if the game was being played right now, Henson would get the nod.

Even Henson's teammates were cautious with their words, but they sounded as if they expect Henson to be the man in the huddle when the offense takes the field for the first time Thursday.

"We don't know anything for sure," TE Jason Witten said. "We don't want to jump the gun. But I'm sure if Drew does get in, he's going to be excited."

Witten was asked to compare Henson with Testaverde. Both are big, athletic QBs with very strong arms. Witten said that each throws the ball very well. The difference, he said, is in the timing with the receivers.

"Drew throws a really good ball," Witten said. "But at this level, they're all good balls. The only difference is the timing of the ball. In training camp, the ball might get there a half a second late (from Henson). But he's gotten a lot better."

Witten said that the primary focus Thursday should not be on who starts at quarterback. Instead, he said, the only thing that really matters is the Cowboys getting a victory. And he made it sound like the quarterback decision is a done deal.

"It's a situation where we know we have to win the game," Witten said. "We're all going to pull behind Drew. This is Drew's first start, and we're all going to rally behind him."

Witten, along with WR Keyshawn Johnson, is one of the receiving targets in whom Testaverde has the most trust. Witten said he isn't sure if Henson has a security blanket among his receivers just yet.

"I don't know if Drew has a favorite receiver, but if he does, I hope I'm it," Witten said. "There's a lot of pressure on a quarterback making his first start. Drew's going to be excited, and with him, he's not just going to want to get the job done -- he's going to want to make big plays."

Henson spent Thanksgiving Day last year in Michigan, eating with friends and family and watching the Lions and Cowboys play their traditional Thanksgiving Day games. By all indications, those same friends and family will spend this Thanksgiving watching Henson make his first start.

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