State of the The Ranch

Leading into this weekend, when teams around the league finally get to darn the pads and hit someone in a different-colored jersey, here's a look at various Cowboys' issues that seem appropriate. A "State Of The Ranch" report if you will.

There‘s been quite a stir regarding the two-week performance of Drew Henson and Tony Romo as they contend for the back-up job behind Drew Bledsoe. So much analysis in fact, the names Vinny Testeverde and Tim Couch are starting to creep into midstream conversation. Whoa people.

Tap the brakes and slow things down.

Sure, things have been less than perfect, and maybe borderline sloppy, but the real measure starts Saturday in the desert. Parcells has promised a ton of work during the preseason, and that's good news for all involved. Let's pick up the pens and verbal commentary when the bullets start to fly. Each needs as much game experience as possible before final decisions are made. Rest assured, Big Bill knows where to find Vinny, and that's not such a bad thing. If brought in as a back up, as the 2004 game planned called for, it's solid, veteran, reliable insurance.

Love the underdog. Always have; always will. How can you not pull for both Keith Davis and Jacob Rogers? Each has met his share of controversy and criticism, but each continues to fight and claw in an effort to make the 53-man roster. Taking it even a step further, each hopes to excel and show enough to secure a starting position in this year's line-up.

Davis found himself in the unenviable position of early morning presence within the parking lot of a gentlemen's club. The odds of something good happening in these situations are both slim and none. A couple of gunshots later, Davis found himself injured and squarely residing in the Parcells' doghouse. The road back was slightly uphill. Cast aside by the Cowboys, brought back, commissioned to NFL Europe, proven success, and an invitation to rejoin the ranks with the mandate of doing things, moving forward, the Parcells' way. "Killer" has made the most of his second chance. Davis has elevated himself to Parcells' Ace on special teams, and he now vows to be Roy's running mate within the last line of defense. There's knowledge he can hit, but can he cover?

If dollars were distributed every time Jacob Rogers was referred to as a "bust," people would be on their way to becoming rich. Not only is this young man battling physically, he's fighting public perception of the cruelest kind. But you know what, he hasn't quit and thrown in the towel. Sure, he may ultimately end up being a casualty of the "injury prone" label as potentially brittle shoulders and NFL tackles don't mix extremely well. However, there is a feeling this guy will go down swinging. A lot of pressure to endure, but we can only hope the doctors have done their best work and Marco Rivera is passing along the most insightful of veteran advice. The rest is up to Rogers. Keep grinding young man.

Call it a gut feeling, but Patrick Crayton, the ultimate "Slash" on the collegiate level, is about to arrive. There were certainly rookie flashes, when given opportunities, but his pushing of Quincy Morgan is noteworthy. Keep an eye on this competition for the third WR spot. This kid, a Texas Stadium back yard product, has enough athleticism and skill sets to stick in the NFL for years to come. His biggest asset may be lack of fear. Parcells' description of Crayton not being consumed, or chewed up, by the game, when the lights shone brightest, speaks volumes to his character and approach to the business at hand.

Marco Rivera will, when the dust settles on the 2005 campaign, be termed the best Cowboys' free agent acquisition since the mid-90's purchase of Deion Sanders. Pancake blocks will not solely decide the measure, but leadership will dominate his value. Having already battled through lower back, disc herniation, his impact has been immediately felt throughout camp. He'll be the conduit and adhesive glue for the entire offensive line. At this juncture, it's difficult to determine the biggest recipient of his presence, but the honor will most likely be bestowed upon Jacob Rogers, Drew Bledsoe or Tony Sparano. All three have been wearing smiles with good reason.

He hasn't played a NFL down as of yet, but the presence of Demarcus Ware can be felt throughout the entire organization. It's a testament to this young man, a small school product, that he seizes first-round selection to the most recognizable franchise in sports, and it's nothing but a business as usual approach to his daily routine. Highly admirable. He has to feel the weight of the Cowboys' world on his shoulders, as the expectations are immense, but he appears to be mature beyond his youthful years. He has to play and produce, and these are lofty expectations for any rookie. Scheme changes along with added responsibilities, but you get the feeling this kid will take them all in stride, and if the injury gods stay at bay, he will contend for defensive rookie of the year honors.

Speaking of the rookie crop, without being able to put an exact finger on it, watch Chris Canty. Another battler on the way back to form. It's most dangerous to be hasty and presumptuous, but Tony Tolbert II looms. Another testament to a young man fighting through injury and perception. A detached retina and recovering knee sent his draft stock plummeting, but there were the Cowboys to provide the free-fall net. Put your trust in modern, medical technology and Al Groh on this one. Rumors have the Virginia head coach telling Bill Parcells "just wait." His greatest asset is the "I'll prove you wrong" demeanor and attitude. His mindset is to productively show 31 other teams they "missed the boat." Not only missing the boat, but when his recently negotiated contract expires, he may be captaining the ship.

Finally, and maybe most importantly, don't underestimate Parcells' role as gardener. He's looking to grow the group with alignment and free of weeds and insects. He'll water and cultivate in hopes of producing a bumper crop of team unity. He wants all the pieces working together for a common cause. A most difficult task in today's NFL landscape, but he's the guy I want holding the rake and fertilizer while both pruning and feeding. An unattended garden becomes unruly, and if you have any reservations, put your eyes on the "me first" cancer Andy Reid is attempting to pluck from his manicured field of success. When individualistic roots run deep, extraction becomes extreme, manual labor. Big Bill has sown the seed, now let's step back to see this thing sprout. Crops, and a corps, capable of enduring desert extremes and northeastern winters. Let the growth cycle begin.

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