> No, the
Tuna wasn't canned. But after guiding the Cowboys to a 34-30 record in four
seasons and extending the franchise's streak of years without a playoff victory
to 10, Bill Parcells and his domineering act had clearly worn thin in Dallas,
and he resigned in January. Enter defensive guru Wade Phillips, late of the
Chargers, who will seek to ramp up the Cowboys' 3-4 defense and turn
25-year-old linebacker DeMarcus Ware, whose 11 1/2 sacks got him into the Pro
Bowl, into a Shawne Merriman-like force.
not making any comparisons," says inside linebacker Akin Ayodele, when
asked to discuss the differences between Parcells and Phillips. And Phillips
himself, when encouraged to describe how his philosophy might diverge from that
of his predecessor, says, "I really don't compare myself to anyone."
Most Cowboys, in fact, profess to have no interest in comparing the notoriously
cantankerous Parcells with the mild-mannered Phillips.
have Bill yelling at you, bearing down on you," says quarterback Tony Romo.
"There's some truth in what Bill did, and there's some truth in what Wade
does--it's just a matter of approach. Wade's going to treat you like a man.
He's not going to call you out in front of the group. But if you make a
mistake, he's going to pull you aside and talk to you." Even a certain
mercurial wideout seems enthused about Phillips. "He calls me Terrell,"
the gentleman formerly referred to by Parcells as the Player said in August on
a Dallas radio show.
But don't think
these Cowboys will be kinder and gentler. In three years at San Diego, Phillips
molded his defense into one of the NFL's most fearsome--last season he got more
sacks (35 1/2) from just three players (Merriman, Shaun Phillips and Luis
Castillo) than Dallas had as a team (34). "Also, Merriman didn't play four
games, and Castillo was out six," notes Phillips. While Parcells's 3-4
scheme relied on outside linebackers to pressure the quarterback, the pass rush
in Phillips's system can come from any defender. "It gives everybody a
chance, so we're not so predictable," says a suddenly less comparison-shy
Ayodele. Adds linebacker Bradie James, "We know without a shadow of a doubt
we'll have more sacks than we had last year. We'll have more game-changing
front seven should create opportunities for a pass defense that ranked 24th
last year and had just three combined interceptions from its skilled starting
cornerbacks, Terence Newman and Anthony Henry. The arrival of hard-hitting free
agent Ken Hamlin, 26, should provide stability in the backfield; since Darren
Woodson last played in January 2004, six safeties have started next to
four-time Pro Bowl selection Roy Williams. Hamlin's range will also allow
Williams to play closer to the line, where he's effective on blitzes and in run
offense will undergo fewer changes; it ranked fifth in the NFL last season and
will continue to benefit from the field position produced by Australian punter
Mat McBriar, whose 48.2 gross average in '06 was the fifth best of all time.
The Cowboys also bring back a Pro Bowl quarterback ( Romo) and tight end (Jason
Witten); two 1,000-yard receivers ( Terrell Owens and Terry Glenn); a 1,000-yard
rusher ( Julius Jones); and the NFC leader in rushing touchdowns (Marion
offensive coordinator Jason Garrett vows not to fiddle much with the balanced
attack and will continue to split the carries between Jones and Barber.
However, the 41-year-old Princeton graduate, who spent eight years as a backup
NFL quarterback, will try to harness Romo's improvisational tendencies. "We
talk about this all the time: Your greatest strength can be your greatest
weakness," says Garrett. "He's a very spontaneous player; he's a guy
who can get himself out of jams. But the trick is to play within the system,
and then when things break down, you're able to tap into some of those
abilities." Says the 27-year-old Romo, "The older and more experienced
I get, the better I'll be at it."