Position By Position Analysis

With the upcoming NFL draft directly on the horizon, it's now time to start considering which positions can be filled from the college ranks and/or through free agency. We examine a majority of the possibilities in this extensive report.

QUARTERBACK
Starter -- Chad Hutchinson. Backups -- Quincy Carter, Clint Stoerner.

Chad Hutchinson, who impressed with his arm strength toughness as a rookie, is still considered the future. Whether he will start next year will be decided by new coach Bill Parcells, who prefers to have a veteran running his team. Options include Arizona quarterback Jake Plummer and Jets quarterback Vinny Testaverde. Neither are expected to return to their respective teams in 2003. What is certain is that the experiment with Quincy Carter is over for good. He will likely be released on Feb. 1 so the Cowboys won't have to pay him a roster bonus for 2003.

RUNNING BACKS
Starters -- RB Emmitt Smith, FB Robert Thomas. Backups -- RB Michael Wiley, RB Troy Hambrick, FB Jamar Martin.

This position remains a huge question because Smith does not want to retire and nobody is standing in line for the job of forcing the NFL's all-time leading rusher out the door. But he most likely will be gone. His cap figure for next season is roughly $10 million. He almost certainly would have to take a pay cut to return. But the question is whether he would take a backup role as well. And how much do you pay the all-time leading rusher as a reserve? Those are questions no one wants to answer. Besides, the Cowboys will decide its best for the team to move on. But that doesn't mean they will move on with Hambrick, who runs his mouth to much and certainly didn't inspire with his play in 2002. He averaged four yards a carry in a limited role but didn't make anyone believe he could be the franchise back. The Cowboys will look on the free-agent market for bargains like Stephen Davis and the draft for a successor to Smith. Thomas is gone as the fullback. He will be cut Feb. 1. Jamar Martin was drafted last year to replace him but was sidelined by a knee injury. He assumes the starting job in 2003.

TIGHT END
Starter -- Tony McGee. Backups -- Mike Lucky, Jeff Robinson, James Whalen.

McGee wasn't spectacular but he was solid and played well enough to return. However, the change to Parcells has upset the apple cart for him. Parcells likes big Mark Bavaro like tight ends. McGee weighs to 240 and has never been a devastating blocker. It's also bad news for the undersized Whalen as well. The team was creating a niche position for this pass-catching demon. Lucky is almost certainly gone. Robinson missed last season due to a knee injury. He will return as a backup tight end and deep snapper.

WIDE RECEIVERS
Starters -- Joey Galloway, Antonio Bryant. Backups -- Antonio Bryant, Reggie Swinton, Ken-Yon Rambo, Randal Williams, Deveren Johnson, Raghib Ismail.

Galloway had his best season as Cowboys player last year with 61 catches for 908 yards and six touchdowns. However, the player the team counted on most to make big plays late in the season was rookie Antonio Bryant, who caught 44 passes for 733 yards and six touchdowns. Galloway's work ethic will also have to change under Parcells. He is a guy who likes to spend his offseason at Ohio State. Parcells demands that his players be at the team's facility. Don't be surprised if Tampa Bay and the Cowboys discuss a trade with Galloway and Parcells' favorite Keyshawn Johnson in the offseason. Another big decision facing Parcells is what to do about Raghib Ismail, who missed all of last season with a neck injury. He is a hard worker and a big play threat but is injury prone, is 33 years old and has a $4 million salary for next season. He will certainly take a pay cut to return.

OFFENSIVE LINE
Starters -- LT Flozell Adams, RT Solomon Page, LG Larry Allen, RG Andre Gurode, C Tyson Walter. Backups -- T Javiar Collins, T Kurt Voller, G Ross Tucker, G Matt Lehr.

Allen signed a six-year, $37 million contract that paid him the second-highest signing bonus ($12.35 million) in team history last offseason. The Cowboys got nothing in return in 2002. He was hobbled earlier in the year by a sprained ankle then had season-ending ankle surgery. He will return in 2003. But questions remains at what position and if he has any dominance left. The Cowboys changed offensive line coaches, bringing in power blocking guru George Warhop to replace Frank Verducci and his zone blocking schemes. Warhop will decide if Allen is a tackle or a guard. The Cowboys are paying him like a tackle. Of course, what the team does with Adams and Page will have a lot to do with it. Both are unrestricted free agents. Neither played well enough to command big bucks on the open market. The Cowboys are currently leaning toward bringing Adams back and cutting their ties with Page. Warhop must also decide whether to play Gurode at guard or center. He started last season at center before moving to guard because Verducci liked Walter better. None of the others are starter worthy and only played big minutes in 2002 because the litany of offensive line injuries. The Cowboys will almost certainly look for linemen on the free-agent market. One name to keep an eye on is unrestricted free agent guard Randy Thomas of the Jets. Parcells drafted him when he was coaching the Jets.

DEFENSIVE LINE
Starters -- DE Greg Ellis, DE Ebenezer Ekuban, DT La'Roi Glover, DT Brandon Noble. Backups -- DE Peppi Zellner, DE Demetric Evans, DE Daleroy Stewart, DT John Nix, DT Michael Myers, DT Willie Blade.

Though this line does not fit the 3-4 scheme that Parcells usually employs, it is the heart and soul of the Cowboys defense. Parcells recognizes as much and doesn't plan to tinker too much, which is why he retained defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer. Glover, a bit small for Parcells, was the best player on defense and lived up to expectations after signing a $22.5 million free-agent deal in the offseason. He was the Cowboys only Pro Bowl pick and helped Ellis to a career-high 8.5 sacks. Both will be staples of the line in 2003. Noble, an unrestricted free agent, is a question mark as he will test the market. Myers, the third tackle, will not be invited back. Zellner, the third end, will also leave via free agency. Nix and Blade must step up. Ekuban, who played great against the run but only mustered one sack, must improve or 2003 will be his last year in Dallas. Look for Parcells to get guys to play his 3-4 scheme in he draft.

LINEBACKER
Starters -- SLB Kevin Hardy, WLB Dexter Coakley, MLB Dat Nguyen. Backups -- LB Jamal Brooks, LB Markus Steele, Louis Mackey.

It's hard to argue with Dexter Coakley's 173 tackles or Nguyen's play when he's healthy. He missed most of 2002 with an injury but recorded 172 tackles in 2001. However, both are targets of Parcells, who is partial to bigger linebackers, especially in the middle. Both Nguyen and Coakley are undersized at 240 pounds and 236 pounds, respectively. Parcells will get guys in the draft and free agency that fit his mold. Nguyen is probably in the biggest trouble in 2003 but Coakley's contract makes it cost prohibitive to get rid of him. Parcells' signing was good news for Hardy because he looks like a Parcells linebacker. Hardy also impressed with his play after entering the season as a question mark because of offseason knee surgery. He finished third on the team in tackles with 114 and showed he can be the impact player he was during his first five seasons with the Jaguars. The Cowboys owe Hardy a $5 million roster bonus in March. They will likely cut him to avoid the bonus but try to re-sign him as a free agent.

DEFENSIVE BACK
Starters -- SS Roy Williams, FS Darren Woodson, CB Mario Edwards, CB Derek Ross. Backups -- SS Tony Dixon, S Lynn Scott, CB Dwayne Goodrich, CB Pete Hunter.

Williams lived up to expectations as the eighth overall pick. He finished second on the team tackles and tied for the team lead in interceptions with five, returning two for touchdowns. He is a future Pro Bowl player at safety. Woodson missed the last missed the last six games with a hernia but he will be back next season and combine with Williams to form one of the league's top safety tandems. Ross was the biggest find for the Cowboys in 2002. The rookie third-round pick emerged as a starter at left corner and should be there for years to come. Edwards didn't have a good second season as a starter and could be the nickel corner next season if the Cowboys can find a suitable replacement in the draft or free agency. Hunter could be that guy, as he showed flashes a rookie last season and has the size the Cowboys like. Goodrich and Scott won't be back in 2003.

SECIAL TEAMS
PK Billy Cundiff, P Filip Filipovic, LS Jeff Grau, KR Woodrow Dantzler, PR Joey Galloway.

Poor long snappers were blamed for the Cowboys kicking woes in 2001 so they signed Jeff Robinson, the ex-Ram, to a four-year, $4.8 million contract. He was sidelined by a knee injury in training camp. Rookie Jeff Grau was signed before the season and did an admirable job. However, the kicking woes continued. Cundiff was kept on the roster because of his strong leg but the rookie missed five of nine kicks from beyond 40 yards and didn't inspire confidence on shorter kicks either. He also was horrible on kickoffs. Filipovic finished 12th in the NFC in punting, averaging 40.6 yards per attempt. He showed a big leg in practice but never could get it done consistently in games. The Cowboys will search for a punter and kicker in the offseason. Special teams are mightily important to Parcells. Robinson will resume the deep snapping duties from Grau because of his prowess and his contract. Dantzler did a good job returning kicks early. He had an 84-yard touchdown. However, he had three fumbles late in the season. Galloway was forced to replace Reggie Swinton as the punt returner because owner Jones wanted to make sure he got his money's worth out of Galloway. He was solid, averaging 12.1 yards per return, including a 71-yarder. His age, 31, will force the Cowboys to go in another direction next year.

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