Early Cowboys Projections Proving True

The Vikings' final preseason opponent has lived up to offseason projections with an improved defense and controversy surrounding them and wide receiver Terrell Owens.

Everything you thought about the Cowboys heading into the 2006 season appears to be coming true.

The defense, in year two of the 3-4, is going to be good. Perhaps very good.

The offense has a chance to be more explosive, and controversial receiver Terrell Owens is going to cause problems.

Owens has tested the patience of Cowboys coach Bill Parcells by missing the first three preseason games with a sore hamstring. He's practiced five times in the last three weeks. With the preseason finale being Thursday, his first action might not come until the season opener against the Jaguars — if then.

While questions abound about how serious Owens' hamstring injury really is, what is unacceptable to the Cowboys is that he missed a team meeting and rehab session on Friday. He was fined $9,500.

Cowboys owner Jerry Jones believes the Owens saga will be over once he gets healthy and gets back on the field. But time will tell if this is a hiccup or the beginning of an explosion named Mount Parcells.

"There's no question our best thing to do is get him well," Jones said. "I want him out there and would've wanted him to make every practice. I understand that and everyone else does, too. He wants to be out there, too.

"I know this — when he's healthy, he's going to help us win these ball games."

The Cowboys are winning right now without Owens. They are 3-0 in the preseason for the first time since 1985.

While the competition has been questionable at best — especially the last two matchups against the Saints and 49ers — it's hard to argue with the results.

Quarterback Drew Bledsoe completed 12 of 17 passes for 200 yards and a touchdown against the 49ers after going 12 of 16 for 156 yards and two touchdowns against the Saints.

And while Bledsoe has to get a feel for Owens, his new No. 1 receiver, Bledsoe showed he still has a strong relationship with receiver Terry Glenn.

Glenn has caught eight passes for 179 yards and two touchdowns from Bledsoe the last two games.

The Cowboys also feel good about their defense. The starters have allowed only three points in the preseason and that came in the opener against the Seahawks when they were without two first-teamers, defensive end Marcus Spears and linebacker Akin Ayodele.

Parcells believes his defense has a chance to be good but he says the unit has not been tested enough because they haven't faced any adversity. He said teams have not put together drives against them and they have not played enough snaps.

Of course part of that is because they have been so darn good.

"At the end of the day, we are doing what you want to do," linebacker Bradie James said. "It gives us a boost to our confidence. We wanted to develop an identity. We are trying to develop that swagger. Everybody is seeing what we can become."

NOTES

  • K Mike Vanderjagt got a tongue-lashing from coach Bill Parcells on Saturday. Vanderjagt has missed the last two games with a groin injury. And when he has kicked in practice, he has been inconsistent. The Cowboys signed Vanderjagt in the off-season to be the savior of their kicking game. With the season opener a little more than two weeks away, they don't know what he can do.

  • WR Jamaica Rector made a bid for a roster spot with a big game against the 49ers, catching seven passes for 80 yards. He could also make the squad as the punt returner if disappointing rookie fourth-round pick Skyler Green doesn't make the team. "He is definitely in the mix," coach Bill Parcells said. "He's the only player that we've got besides Terry that has real good quickness so I have to take that into consideration. He did a good job."

  • RT Marc Colombo started ahead of Jason Fabini and had a solid outing against the 49ers. The former bust of a first-round pick with the Bears is the favorite to be the opening-day starter. He was part of a developing offensive line that had its best game of the season against the 49ers.

  • DE Jason Hatcher still needs work against the run. But the rookie fourth-round pick is ready to contribute as a pass rusher. He had two sacks and forced a fumble against the 49ers.

  • FS Keith Davis missed the 49ers game because he had a bullet removed from his right thigh. The bullet had been in his leg since a July 16 shooting incident on a Dallas highway. Davis didn't have any limitations in training camp and didn't miss any practices. But he always said he might have the bullet removed before the start of the season. In an unrelated matter, Davis is in jeopardy of losing his starting job to rookie Pat Watkins. The Cowboys are giving Watkins every chance to win the job. He has started the past two weeks and has not embarrassed himself. Watkins is a true free safety who plays center field and offers a nice complement to strong safety Roy Williams. Davis plays an aggressive style that suits him best as a run defender and on special teams.

  • LB Scott Shanle was traded to the Saints for a seventh-round pick.

  • QB Drew Henson was one of several players released last week, including guard Stephen Peterman. Coach Bill Parcells said he didn't see enough from Henson in three years. Henson said he was never given a real opportunity. The Cowboys, who traded a third-round pick to the Texans to acquire Henson, still owe him $3.5 million.

  • G Stephen Peterman's demise was disappointing because the Cowboys spent a third-round pick on him in 2003. Now, three of the team's first four picks from that draft are no longer on the team. Tackle Jacob Rogers (second round) and cornerback Bruce Thornton (fourth round) have been long gone. Only running back Julius Jones, who was picked in the second round, remains.

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