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Vinnie Iyer and Jean-Jacques Taylor

The Sporting News

BURNING QUESTION

What will Bill Parcells' presence mean to the team?

The Cowboys' new coach has been successful at each of his stops -- see Giants, Patriots and Jets -- but he can't make miracles happen overnight. It will take one good transition season for "America's Team" to again meet its standard of success.

Impressive groundwork will be laid in 2003. Parcells will get this team working toward team goals, not individual ones. He won't let the shiny blue stars adoring the Cowboys' helmets -- which he said the rookies needed to earn in minicamp -- get through to the players' heads. If egos are at work at Dallas, they won't be on the field.

The team has some nice young talent, and Parcells is the right man to bring it together. Changing his players' attitudes by volumes will help make him get the most out of his team. Progress will be made -- even if it doesn't translate into a playoff berth. --Vinnie Iyer

WHAT'S NEW

The thermostats have been lowered in the training room. Cell phones have been banned from the locker room. And Parcells has put a premium on strength and conditioning.

"If there's going to be a fat guy on this team, it's going to be me," Parcells proclaimed at his first team meeting in February.

The mood clearly is different at the Cowboys' Valley Ranch training complex. There's no longer any debate about whether owner Jerry Jones or the head coach is running team. It's clear to the players, coaches and support staff that Jones owns the team but Parcells runs it.

This is how it worked in the early 1990s, when Jimmy Johnson and Jones ruled the NFL. Jones never has had a problem listening to a strong head coach. He just hasn't had one since Johnson left after the 1993 season.

It's not that Barry Switzer, Chan Gailey and Dave Campo were poor coaches; it's that they didn't command Jones' respect. Parcells does.

SPOTLIGHT PLAYERS

QB Chad Hutchinson: The Cowboys don't know whether their quarterback of the future is on the roster, but they're going to give Hutchinson an opportunity to prove he can be the guy.

Hutchinson impressed the coaching staff with his toughness and work ethic under difficult circumstances last season. He was sacked 34 times in only nine games but never complained about his offensive line or the amount of punishment he was taking. Hutchinson passed for more than 200 yards only twice, but the Cowboys believe he'll be much better this season because the offensive line should be significantly improved, as should the receiving unit.

Parcells would like to bring in a veteran capable of starting in case Hutchinson can't handle the job. The team soured on 2001 second-round pick Quincy Carter and benched him after seven games last season. The demotion, however, had more to do with his attitude and inability to work with former offensive coordinator Bruce Coslet than his ability.

Hutchinson probably will get more repetitions in practice and have every opportunity to secure the job, but if Carter plays at a high level in training camp there's a chance he could emerge as the starter.

RB Troy Hambrick: Hambrick has been clamoring for an opportunity to run the ball since he gained 579 yards and averaged 5.1 yards per carry in 2001. Last season, he averaged 4.0 yards but totaled only 317 as Cowboys legend Emmitt Smith chased the NFL's career rushing record and played ahead of Hambrick. Now that Smith has signed with the Cardinals, Dallas finally will find out what it has in Hambrick, who spent much of last season frustrated that the Cowboys wouldn't give him an opportunity to prove he could be the feature back.

That frustration contributed to several mental mistakes that defeated his argument and hurt the team. Twice, he missed blocks, which led to sacks and fumbles that were returned for touchdowns.

Hambrick insists that he has matured. He will get the opportunity to start, but there will be plenty of competition even though Dallas didn't select a running back in the draft. Michael Wiley, used on third downs last season, is an explosive runner and receiver. He averaged 7.6 yards in 22 carries with a long of 46. Dallas also traded a seventh-round pick to Detroit for speedster Aveion Cason.

The secondary: Free safety Roy Williams and cornerback Derek Ross made the All-Rookie team last year. Now, the Cowboys have added cornerback Terence Newman, considered the top player in the draft by at least 10 teams.

The team also re-signed cornerbacks Mario Edwards and signed former Titan Donald Mitchell. Those moves solidify the team's nickel and dime defenses. Mitchell was one of the better nickel cornerbacks available, and Edwards started for Dallas the past two seasons.

The Cowboys expect Newman to control receivers without safety help, which will allow Williams and strong safety Darren Woodson to play closer to the line of scrimmage in run support and make it easier for either player to blitz. The Cowboys used to play a two-deep zone, in part to protect their suspect cornerbacks. Ross and Newman are playmakers capable of excelling in man-to-man coverage, so look for the team to be more aggressive.

Woodson and Williams are terrific at safety, but there is no proven depth behind them. Williams, who started slowly last season, then turned into a force, is the best player in the secondary. He finished with 127 tackles, including seven for loss, and two sacks. He also intercepted five passes, returning two for touchdowns, and forced four fumbles. He didn't make the Pro Bowl last season, but he should be in Hawaii next February.

GAME PLAN

Parcells has won with a grinding, ball-control offense. And he has won with a wide-open passing attack. The guess is he'll play it conservative this year.

There is no need to put pressure on Hutchinson to carry the team. Besides, Dallas has much better weapons at the skill positions than it did a year ago.

Offensive coordinator Maurice Carthon knows Parcells the best. He is in charge of the running game, and quarterbacks coach and assistant coach Sean Payton handles the passing game.

The Cowboys don't have the personnel to be one-dimensional either running or passing. Expect Parcells to install a multiple offense that gives the team an opportunity to do a few things well.

Payton is fond of using motion to create mismatches, but he might cut back on it this season because Hutchinson may be served better by using more time to get a good pre-snap read.

On defense, the Cowboys are going to be more aggressive. Defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer probably will use fewer two-deep zone coverages, and the cornerbacks and linebackers will be more aggressive at the line of scrimmage.

The team wants quarterbacks to be uncomfortable in their reads, which will force them to hold on to the ball longer, leading to more sacks. Pressure forces quarterbacks to make decisions under duress, and that usually leads to mistakes and turnovers.

The Cowboys intercepted just 19 passes last season. They need more to compensate for an offense that's expected to struggle again this season.

DAN POMPEI'S TAKE

Parcells is certain to leave a big footprint on this team. The question is: Will he have to tear down the Cowboys before building them back up?

FALL FORECAST

Dallas will be better this season. Much better. But the Cowboys have one of the NFL's toughest schedules, which means they easily could be 5-11 for the fourth consecutive season. Consecutive good drafts have allowed Dallas to expand its talent base, but the results won't be seen in the final record this season.

Jean-Jacques Taylor covers the Cowboys for The Dallas Morning News.

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"Dallas will be better this season. Much better. But the Cowboys have one of the NFL's toughest schedules, which means they easily could be 5-11 for the fourth consecutive season."

Ummmmm...yeah....I guess....that makes sense.

At least he agrees with my 5 win prediction.

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"If there's going to be a fat guy on this team, it's going to be me," Parcells proclaimed at his first team meeting in February

In other words the big dog eats first at the training table... stay away from his ribs and Grey Goose.

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