Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Excerpt From Ryan Bush's Book "Decade of Futility" - Why Bill Parcells Chose Vinny Testaverde Over Drew Henson

(Author's Note: Until Tony Romo was inserted into the Dallas Cowboys' starting lineup in October of 2006, the name Drew Henson was one of constant musing for the Cowboy Faithful.  Why wasn't Henson given a fair chance to quarterback America's Team?  Why didn't Bill Parcells bench Vinny Testaverde and let Henson play the final handful of games during the long and arduous 2004 season?
In my new book "Decade of Futility" I tackled these concerns head-on.  Below you will read an excerpt from Chapter 12 that  will not only reveal what direction Bill Parcells was ultimately forced to go during Henson's rookie campaign, but why Henson didn't fit into Parcells' immediate plans.)

From Pages 101-103 of Decade of Futility:

How to employ his team for the remaining eight games became Parcells' primary concern.  Without a sign of initiative from the players to take a step forward during a rough 3-5 start, planning for the future was really all Parcells was left to do for the next two months.
How to go about this was where it became sticky, because stuck in the middle of this situation was rookie quarterback Drew Henson, a player Dallas picked up in a trade with Houston in March for the worth of a third-round draft pick in 2005.  Like Chad Hutchinson, Henson played college football at a top-tier university (Michigan) but wound-up heading for a big payday on the baseball diamond when his collegiate career ended.  Less than four years into his contract with the Yankees, Henson decided he'd had enough and threw down his glove for one last chance at captaining an NFL huddle.

As the losses continued to pile up at an alarming rate, the cries for Henson to be given a chance became increasingly louder and more demanding.  What good is going to be accomplished with a quarterback who will turn 41 in November when in a lost season?  We need a quarterback, so why not see what the kid's got?
Upon further review, Parcells realized his team stood farther behind the eight-ball than the absence of a franchise quarterback.  Much farther.  So much so that he decided to chunk the 4-3 defensive scheme that they had used during their previous season when they finished ranked No. 1 in yards allowed, for the 3-4 scheme that he used in New England and New York.  Having Testaverde remain at quarterback promised to aid in the process, while also giving him a clearer read on who to keep around on the offensive side of the ball.

Now that Terry Glenn was lodging on the portico of the injured reserve and Antonio Bryant was getting chewed up in Cleveland, rookie wide-outs Terrance Copper and Patrick Crayton, along with Randal Williams, stood to see extensive playing time for the remainder of the season.  Parcells needed to know who, if anyone, he should hang onto.  Properly gauging their improvements promised to be worse than looking into a rusty mirror with a rookie quarterback directing passes toward them.  A rookie would also allow defenses to lock-in on an already demoralized rushing attack that promised to receive a shot in the arm when Julius Jones returned from injury.
Too many circumstances against Henson compelled Parcells to stick with Testaverde in the face of critics and hecklers.  Though fans and columnists couldn't see it, Parcells envisioned this decision as a quicker route to complete the massive roster overhaul that he began on day-one and get the team back on the competitive track.  This broken record was more than just about the quarterback, so why complicate matters in seasons to come by making it all about him?
In today's NFL, a requirement for a defense to get off the field on third-down is to have three reliable cornerbacks on the roster.  At this juncture, the name of Terence Newman remained the only one to qualify.
Darren Woodson's back injury meant safety Roy Williams was joined in the defensive backfield by Tony Dixon, a royal pass-coverage liability, leaving another gaping hole in Dallas' once-strong pass defense.  And up-front, the three veteran linemen of Marcellus Wiley, La'Roi Glover and Greg Ellis looked incapable of forcing the quarterback out of the pocket.
The linebackers composed the true backbone of the defense.  Eack of Dexter Coakley, Dat Nguyen and Al Singleton were considered undersized by some, but used their quickness and uncanny instincts  to nose out the ball-carrier.  Coakley was a three-time Pro Bowler since being drafted by Dallas in 1997 out of Appalachian State, and Singleton joined the Cowboys after helping Tampa's No. 1 ranked defense swallow the Raiders whole in Super Bowl XXXVII.
Nguyen, the middle-linebacker, was the smallest of them all, but forced his way into the starting lineup in 2001 for his knack of making plays.  Parcells once referred to Nguyen as his "football-playin' dude," and anyone who ever saw Nguyen play in Dalas or down at College Station with the Aggies of Texas A&M can relate with the head coach.

Loose chinking surrounding this threesome significantly affected their effectiveness and made even these defensive standouts subject to Parcells' trial by fire that was to come.  While Parcells' first year was largely spent hammering his mentality down the players' throats, now was the time to instill the system, not to mention a bit more talent, to match.
Starting with the next game against division-leading Philadelphia, the Cowboys had a package that used the 3-4 and many of its gap-control techniques installed into the weekly game-plan to begin this evolutionary changeover.  It did little to confuse the Eagles, as they whipped the Cowboys on a Monday night in Texas Stadium by a 49-21 mark.  Baltimore's offensively-challenged unit made it look just as easy the next week, winning 30-10 in a game that Testaverde suffered a second-half rib injury and was forced to give way to Henson.
With Testaverde still ailing from his injury four days earlier, it was Henson who started on Thanksgiving Day against Chicago for the 3-7 Cowboys.  By halftime he was on the bench, and Testaverde was back out on the field helping Dallas pull away at the end and win 21-7.