Looking Towards the 2003 Draft

As the Dallas Cowboys begin the home stretch of the regular season, it's now time to start thinking about the future of the franchise and the 2003 NFL Draft. Is it time to move in a different direction at quarterback? What about the offensive line? Where does the offense go from here?

With eleven games in the book for the 2002 season, one thing still remains painfully clear: the Dallas Cowboys need help on offense, just like they did a year ago.

The hiring of offensive coordinator Bruce Coslet has proven to be ineffective up to this point in the year. Perhaps that's his fault, or perhaps he just doesn't have the talent he needs to get the job done.
Whatever the case may be, there's no arguing that the 2003 NFL Draft, held at The Theater at Madison Square Garden in New York City on April 26-26 of next year, will see the Cowboys turn their attention towards the offensive side of the ball.

After all, even the lowly Cincinnati Bengals and the expansion Houston Texans have scored more points than America's Team this year. Hard to believe isn't it?

Not really. When you look at who the Cowboys drafted on offense from 1995 all the way through 2001, you'll find just two starters out six possible years of draft picks. Folks, I won't be the first to say that's downright embarrassing.

Fortunately, some help was provided in last year's draft by the 2nd round acquisition of Pittsburgh wide receiver Antonio Bryant. Bryant, while frustrated at times with the overall lack of production by the offense this year, has 447 yards receiving and three touchdowns and is averaging close to 17 yards per catch.

And those statistics come from two quarterbacks that for the most part, have struggled mightily up to this point in the season.

Starting QB Quincy Carter was yanked in mid-October after it appeared as though he was unable to consistently move the offense up and down the field. The former second round draft pick out of Georgia was benched in favor of Chad Hutchinson.

Hutchinson has had mixed results in his previous three games, but he did lead the Boys to their only game of scoring over 20 points in last week's win over the Jaguars. He also threw for more than 300 yards for the first time this season, leading some fans to believe that the answer at quarterback has finally been found.

"He does have talent and he has a lot of things to work on and improve on, but he does what he's coached to do," head coach Dave Campo said of Hutchinson. "As long as we have that going with him, we have a chance to progress to a point where everybody will feel comfortable with what he can do."

And while Hutchinson is starting to garner more support from the Cowboys' coaching staff, don't be fooled just yet. The 2003 draft will have more than it's share of big time collegiate quarterbacks available, and Jerry Jones will keep all of his options open right up until the Cowboys go on the clock.

"The decisions he's making, the throws he's making, the adversity he's playing under, I think you'd have to give him a positive rating and a positive for the future," said Jerry Jones in reference to Chad Hutchinson's performance this year.

"The only negative things I could say would be that we're not winning or putting points up, and you'd say those are pretty negative things, but he also isn't getting a lot of time in the pocket," Jones added.

As the owner of the Dallas Cowboys, Jerry Jones only cares about winning, and he'll do whatever it takes to field a team that gives him the best chance of succeeding in the NFL. If Chad Hutchinson can't get the job done over the course of the last 5 games of the season, he'll be forced to look elsewhere- and that all starts with next year's draft in New York.

Enter Marshall's Byron Leftwich, who most experts are already tabbing as the "dream quarterback" for the 2003 draft. The 6'6, 240-pound senior has set the NCAA record books on fire during his 4-year career, and you just have to believe that any team in position to grab his services would have to think long and hard before making a decision to pass him up.

Leftwich is an athletic pocket passer with tremendous physical skills and unlimted potential. He sets up in the pocket with solid footwork, displays patience and often looks away from the primary target. He has no problems hitting his secondary receivers and his quick release allows him to get away with throws that most other quarterbacks only dream about.

While Leftwich looks like the ideal candidate to run Bruce Coslet's offense, the Cowboys certainly have more pressing concerns entering the 2003 draft, and those issues all center around the offensive line.

To say that veteran offensive tackles Solomon Page and Flozell Adams have had poor years would be an understatement. Guard Larry Allen is already out for the rest of the season and will undergo surgery in early December to remove bone spurs from his sprained left ankle.

While Hutchinson may not be a pro-bowler this year, he also hasn't had near enough time to simply throw the football downfield. Drafting another quarterback to come in and get flattened by some of the biggest defensive linemen on the planet certainly won't provide dividends for this offense next season.

Head coach Dave Campo has been largely unwilling to address the offensive line woes, which is somewhat surprising given the fact that the Cowboys will use these last few games to evaluate Chad Hutchinson.

"I think we can build on our defense," said Campo. "I still think our kickers, as bad as they've looked at times, still have a future here, but now you've got to look at how you help yourself offensively, and I think the quarterback position is the biggest key there."

I won't be the first to tell you that no quarterback can succeed in Dallas unless he has time to throw the football. It's time for the organization to wake up and do something drastic to help out this offense.

While some fans are screaming for a change at quarterback, it's still too early to determine if that's the route to go in 2003. There will be plenty of other players available in April that could help this team more than starting all over again at quarterback- and we'll save that for our next column that will be released early next week.

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