Basic Ball

This is football. It's high time the state of the Cowboys was met head on. No side skirting, dancing or softening the issues that will either propel this team to the next level or allow it to wallow in mediocrity. The first order of business is Julius Jones.

Many times in life the opportunity is never taken to tell it like it is and deliver the brutal truth. Why? The political correctness movement sweeping this country is diminishing the opportunity for opinion and cutting at the heart of the First Amendment. Thank goodness the coaching profession continues to side step the PC way of life. The softer we get, not wanting to hurt feelings, the further we get from reality.

This is football. It's high time the state of the Cowboys was met head on. No side skirting, dancing or softening the issues that will either propel this team to the next level or allow it to wallow in mediocrity. The first order of business is Julius Jones. Put the Cowboys aside for the moment. Julius Jones is in a personal battle to establish himself as a bone fide NFL running back. He, without question, is the biggest mystery on the current roster. Is Julius the real deal or simply a tease? There have certainly been flashes of potential greatness, but the lack of consistency and the propensity for injury have curtailed his invitation to the NFL's elite running back club.

Everyone remembers the performances on the Monday night in Seattle and last year's textbook display in Carolina. The kid appears to be something special, but Cowboys fans and coaches have never been able to hang their hats on the reliability factor. It might appear insane to label a player who owns four 149+ yard games, within two years, an enigma. In the most simplistic of terms, Julius must complete the 2006 campaign without a major injury. In two years, his departures have been lengthy and detrimental to the team.

If he wants to establish himself as a legitimate NFL running back, he certainly has himself positioned under the right head coach. Parcells is all about ball control, field position, eating clock and keeping games close. This "grinder" approach certainly favors the running back position. There are absolutely no excuses this year. The field of play will favor Jones, and he has to produce. The additions of Terrell Owens and Anthony Fasano will automatically open things up for Jones, but it's his duty to capitalize. Yes, the offensive line will play a major role through execution and the creation of running lanes, but Julius is going to see less eight-man fronts with Owens' arrival.

So, these first two years, are they merely misfortunes or are the Cowboys dealing with a brittle tailback? Another significant injury this year could seal the fate of Julius Jones. Harsh? Indeed, but the NFL is big business, and patience is extremely scarce. A complete sixteen game season logged, and the 2004 drafting prowess of the Cowboys may finally come to fruition. It appears Julius has taken himself out of the prediction game, and that's more than a good thing. Shortcomings on public predictions only make the pontificator look the fool. Julius, it's all on you. Legit or liability?

While addressing the running game, let's turn the focus to the Cowboys most lethal weapon. While the debate continues to rage, just exactly what did the Cowboys have to lose in the Terrell Owens venture? Seriously, this, unlike the Eagles, is not a team looking to return to the NFC Championship game for the fourth year in a row. It's a team simply looking to participate in the post season. Quite a difference, wouldn't you agree?

Prior to the docking of the Tuna Boat, the Cowboys enjoyed three straight years of 5-11 ball. How grand was that? The Division was pounding it down the Boys' throats, and the opposition simply laughed at the demise of America's Team. There have been signs of progress, but the Parcells' records stands at a pedestrian 25-23. Certainly nothing to write home about, and it's simply a compilation of pure mediocrity. His history denotes instant impact and the ability to turn franchises around, but this project has fallen short of expectations and the annual demands of the Cowboys' Nation.

The general fear of the masses is Owens' ability to bring the team down by pure, personal selfishness. Hasn't that been the M.O. in the two previous venues? Why wouldn't one expect the pattern to continue? There are a couple of factors to keep in mind here. Yes, he could create a stir and a focus diversion, but just what would he be imploding? A franchise on top of its game? A proven, legitimate contender? A regular, post-season participant? A feared opponent? Come on people, these are all things this organization aspires to regain, and the organizational hope is Owens can help resurrect the expectations. Isn't he deemed necessary?

Listen, this entire endeavor is structured in the Cowboys' favor. Give Jerry some credit. He bought Owens' services when the receiver's stock was at its lowest depth. Isn't this the essence of business; buying low with hopes of selling high or cashing in chips? Jerry's entire life is big business. He had to "pony up" a financial commitment to get skin in the game, but if Owens wants to reap the entire financial outlay the Jones family has provided, he has to perform, and performance incorporates conducive behavior. If not, the Cowboys structured the marriage with an "easy out" option and cut-the-cord mentality. If Parcells senses any dissention, it's "good riddance" Terrell Owens. It's really that simple. At this juncture, Greg Ellis is potentially more destructive than the book-pushing, world-class receiver.

Money and personality conflicts are the least of the Terrell Owens' worries. The greatest area of concern is how he fits the offensive scheme and philosophy. A subtle and overlooked dimension, but this is where any possible disruption and dissention resides. San Francisco and Philadelphia were West Coast, quick strike offenses. They possessed the ability to run or throw first, at any time, from anywhere on the field. The Cowboys' desire is Edsel-like compared to what Owens has been accustomed to throughout his eleven-year career. The question isn't whether he'll catch 100 balls, it's more of will he be patient enough for his chances, and will he do the little things to make this offense effective? Things like blocking and decoy route running. Is his ego too big to become a blue-collar worker? Will he become a cog in the configuration of the sum of all the parts, and can he exist without being the final answer to all questions?

The Cowboys possess explosive capabilities, and this in no way is meant to infer they won't utilize the arsenal. When you have weapons, you use them. If not, then shame on the organization for pursuing this avenue of artillery. This entire matter boils down to patience and dedication. These will be the determining factors in the Terrell Owens experiment. Hopefully Owens and Michael Irvin have sat down, privately, to absorb the early and mid 90's footage. "Beauty" defined is observing The Playmaker running interference while Emmitt Smith navigates the field of play. The ultimate selfish to selfless commitment to team play. Michael Irvin sacrificed individual statistics and highlights for the good of the cause. Terrell Owens is yet to commit himself in this fashion. Time for Michael to "minister" to the congregation. The quick slants will be there, but the Cowboys are still about advancing the ball and eating clock. This approach will not change until the Tuna Boat sets sail for good. Can Terrell Owens adapt?

Now that the running game's importance and team play aspects have been clearly-defined, let's turn to the third element comprising the Parcells' triumvirate as it directly relates to success and winning, Tuna style. Field position. As boring as it may appear, the importance is unmatched. Today's world is quick strike and immediate gratification. However, our current freedoms were delivered via patience, strategy and execution. The United States would not be the United States without those who clearly understood the field of battle and the ability to execute a game plan.

No, the attempt is not to equate football to the very existence of human freedom in the Western World, but similar elements exist within both pursuits. The Cowboys' best off-season move was the acquisition of Mike Vanderjagt. Hands down. Is there danger in predictions before the results are in? No doubt, but there is comfort due to Vanderjagt's history and ability to deliver. The Cowboys bought consistency and a proven commodity. As great as Steve Hoffman was, the Cowboys could no longer place their kicking game in the hands of fate and bargain basement spending.

Nothing is a given in the NFL, but the hope is Cowboys' fans will be able to sit back in their seats and not have to reach for the Cuervo bottle every time the field goal unit trots onto the field. Vanderjagt simply must perform. He must solidify confidence throughout the team and within the coaching ranks. A kicker can be a barometer for the entire team, and the pressure is squarely on the Cowboys' newest sidewinder. His 85% accuracy rate must continue, especially in the race known affectionately as the NFC East. Things are going to be tightly contested, and field goals are bound to come into play and decide contests.

The drafting of Skyler Green and the retention of Keith Davis signify the importance and essence of special teams in the Pro game. They're more than vital. Take a close look at the last three Drafts. In totality, there has been an enormous emphasis on special teams contributions. If the Cowboys can rank in the top five of both defense and special teams during the 2006 campaign, there will be success. Anything the offense does will only be icing on the foundational cake.

All of this must come together and come together quickly. One can only hope there are large amounts of calcium supplements in the Oxnard water, Terrell Owens discovers the hidden intricacies of being a "complete" NFL wide receiver, and the "quirky" Vanderjagt is as "true" as ever. 2006 success is dependent on these elements. The road is ready to be paved with the arrival of training camp. The contour of this road will be determined by these very factors. The hope is for a smooth, straight line. After all, the shortest distance between two points (Oxnard and Miami) is a straight line. Will the Cowboys be able to walk it?

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