Parcells will have plenty of new players at his disposal as the Cowboys open the season against the Chargers at Qualcomm Stadium.
Parcells turned the 5-11 club he inherited into a 10-6 playoff surprise in 2003 before the Cowboys regressed to a 6-10 mark in 2004.
If things hold up, Year 3 of the Parcells era in Dallas could end up like his speedy turnarounds of the New York Giants, New England Patriots and New York Jets. Parcells guided the Giants to Super Bowl victories in 1986 and 1990 before taking the Patriots to the Super Bowl in 1996 and the Jets to the 1998 AFC championship game.
Going into his third season with Dallas, Parcells finally has the kind of players he thinks it takes to compete.
“I do really genuinely look forward to this season,” Parcells said.
The defense will line up in a 3-4, with the type of big, physical linebackers and ends Parcells has been known to favor. The Cowboys used both of their first-round picks on defensive ends DeMarcus Ware and Marcus Spears.
Ware has already drawn high praise and comparisons to NFL great Lawrence Taylor for his speed on the edge and playmaking abilities in the preseason. The 6-foot-4, 300-pound Spears brings the size and athleticism the Cowboys lacked at the end position last year.
The quarterback spot was solidified when veteran Drew Bledsoe signed with Dallas before free agency opened. Owner Jerry Jones stocked Parcells’ cupboard with more players via free agency, handing out $28 million in signing bonuses alone to nose tackle Jason Ferguson, right guard Marco Rivera and cornerback Anthony Henry.
Aaron Glenn was added at cornerback and will be a backup for the first time in his career, a good indication that Dallas has upgraded its weakest position from last season. Safety Roy Williams has fewer coverage responsibilities, so he should be back stalking receivers.
“We have a lot to prove and we’re not going to come out here hanging our heads down because we had a 6-10 season,” Williams said. “This is a new year.”
The offense’s success hinges on Bledsoe’s ability to get the ball downfield and the performance of second-year running back Julius Jones.
Jones sparked the Cowboys with 803 rushing yards and seven touchdowns over Dallas’ final seven games last season.
“This team is capable of winning a lot of games,” said Bledsoe, who was drafted first overall by Parcells’ Patriots in 1993. “and we can do it a lot of different ways.”
The Chargers are out to prove last year’s success wasn’t a fluke.
San Diego bounced back from a 4-12 campaign to win the AFC West with a 12-4 mark in 2004. The Chargers went to the playoffs for the first time since 1995 before getting knocked out by the New York Jets in the first round.
San Diego hasn’t won a playoff game since 1994, but that hasn’t stopped the Chargers from setting lofty goals.
“The Super Bowl,” running back LaDainian Tomlinson insisted.
Tomlinson’s not the only Charger overflowing with confidence.
“This is a big statement, but we could be as good as any offense ever,” said quarterback Drew Brees, the NFL’s Comeback Player of the Year in 2004.
“Why not? We feel like we have all the pieces. Now it’s just a matter of whether we play together, whether we trust one another in what we do.
“We’ve been in this offense now for four years,” added Brees, who’s playing under a one-year, $8 million contract after being tagged as the Chargers’ franchise player. “There are so many guys that are doing things well. In our minds, we’re very confident. We play that way. We feel like we should be the best offense in the league, I guess. Why not try to be the best ever? I think that’s why you play the game. That’s how I play the game.”
Tomlinson had his typical MVP-type season last year with 1,335 yards rushing, 441 receiving yards and 18 total touchdowns. However, it was the breakout performances of Brees and tight end Antonio Gates that elevated the Chargers offense to new levels.
Brees threw for 3,159 yards, 27 touchdowns and finished the year with a career-best 104.8 passer rating.
Gates, an All-Pro in just his second season, will sit out Sunday’s opener against Dallas as he finishes a three-game suspension for missing a team-mandated deadline for reporting to camp. He caught 13 touchdown passes last year, a record for NFL tight ends, and accounted for nearly 20 percent of the offense.
2004 STANDINGS: Cowboys - 2nd place (tied), NFC East. Chargers - 1st place, AFC West.
2004 COWBOYS LEADERS: Offense - Vinny Testaverde, 3,532 passing yards and 17 passing TDs; Jones, 819 rushing yards and 7 rushing TDs; Jason Witten, 87 receptions; Keyshawn Johnson, 981 receiving yards; Johnson and Witten, 6 receiving TDs. Defense - Dat Nguyen, 75 tackles; Greg Ellis, 9 sacks; Terence Newman, 4 interceptions.
2004 CHARGERS LEADERS: Offense - Brees, 3,159 passing yards and 27 passing TDs; Tomlinson, 1,335 rushing yards and 17 rushing TDs; Gates, 81 receptions, 964 receiving yards and 13 receiving TDs. Defense - Donnie Edwards, 104 tackles; Steve Foley, 10 sacks and 5 interceptions.
2004 COWBOYS TEAM RANK: Rushing Offense - 110.6 yards per game (20th in NFL); Passing Offense - 214.2 ypg (15th); Total Offense - 324.8 ypg (14th). Rushing Defense - 110.2 ypg (10th); Passing Defense - 220.1 ypg (21st); Total Defense - 330.3 ypg (16th).
2004 CHARGERS TEAM RANK: Rushing Offense - 136.6 ypg (6th); Passing Offense - 209.8 ypg (16th); Total Offense - 346.4 ypg (10th). Rushing Defense - 81.7 ypg (3rd); Passing Defense - 253.3 ypg (31st); Total Defense - 335 ypg (18th).
LAST MEETING: Sept. 23, 2001; Chargers, 32-21. At Dallas, Doug Flutie completed 23-of-38 passes for 353 yards and two touchdowns to lead San Diego. The Cowboys have won four of the last five meetings overall in the series.
STREAKS AND NOTES: Cowboys - TE Witten ranked second among NFL tight ends with 87 receptions in 2004. … QB Bledsoe threw for 55 TDs and 43 INTs in three seasons in Buffalo before the Bills released him following the 2004 season. … WR Terry Glenn was drafted by New England in 1996 and teamed with Bledsoe from 1996-01 in New England, posting four 50-catch seasons. Chargers - After going 1-5 against playoff teams last season—and 2-5 against teams with winning records—San Diego plays six teams that reached the postseason in 2004, including two with division rival Denver. … QB Brees completed a career-best 65.5 percent of his passes in 2004. … Like the Cowboys, San Diego had two first-round picks in the 2005 draft and selected two defensive players. The Chargers drafted LB Shawne Merriman and DT Luis Castillo.
2004 ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Cowboys - 2-6 on the road; Chargers - 7-1 at home.