OXNARD, Calif. - He is slimmer and more ornery - which, come to think of it, is how he wants his team to be this season.
Building and rebuilding are cuss words to Bill Parcells these days. There is no room in his nearly 64-year-old noggin for anything like that - not that there ever has been, really. There is no room for any vestige of last season's 6-10 disaster, which caused these Dallas Cowboys and their coach so much discomfort.
There is room for but one thing: getting to where the Eagles are in the NFC East.
"Do I judge our team vs. Philadelphia? Yes, I do," Parcells said after Friday morning's practice, a workout marred by multiple injuries to the Cowboys' top draft pick, defensive end Marcus Spears.
"So when I'm looking for guys, there is that," Parcells said. "A perfect example of that would be (cornerback) Anthony Henry. I saw him play against Plaxico Burress and Terrell Owens. I saw it. I saw the film. He played against them last year. That was big, for me."
That's why Dallas invested $25 million to lure Henry from the Cleveland Browns during the first week of free agency. And why Dallas gave nose tackle Jason Ferguson $21 million over five years - including a $9 million signing bonus.
But there is a lot of work to be done in Dallas to become a legitimate challenger to the Eagles.
Last season, Parcells seemed at a loss as to what to do with his team, especially on the defensive side. The Cowboys were a mess on offense, with Vinny Testaverde game but not able on many Sundays. And when he was able, there wasn't anyone really open.
But it was the defense that was truly galling. A unit that had been first in the NFL overall, second in scoring defense and third in run defense in 2003 fell to 16th, 10th and 27th in those respective categories last season. Parcells tried to be patient, because he had so many young players at key positions such as cornerback, and because the Cowboys had so many injuries. But Dallas lost and lost, occasionally in excruciating fashion.
And so, there was change.
Parcells did upgrade the team at quarterback by bringing in one of his old New England guys, Drew Bledsoe. But the defense has been radically made over. The Cowboys are going to use the 3-4 defense - which Parcells believes is a more physical front than the 4-3.
They let small, quick linebackers such as Dexter Coakley leave via free agency in favor of bigger pluggers such as third-year linebackers Scott Shanle and Bradie James. Ferguson is expected to control the middle at nose tackle now that he's down to a relatively svelte 310 pounds, leaving La'Roi Glover and other defensive linemen free to make plays. They're hoping that Spears and fellow first-round pick Demarcus Ware can come off the edge.
Friday, Spears suffered a second-degree tear in his medial collateral (knee) ligament, a high ankle sprain and a pulled groin. The Cowboys say he will be out for two to four weeks.
Henry and third-year corner Terence Newman are expected to significantly upgrade Dallas' cornerback play, with veteran Aaron Glenn playing nickel. There are question marks at safety as the Cowboys attempt to replace longtime veteran Darren Woodson, but the Cowboys have filled a lot of their defensive holes.
With better players come higher expectations. And Parcells wasn't about to sit back like he did last season. So there are more practices in pads, and more hitting. There are more meetings, with more details. There is more hands-on schooling with the players. There are officials at practice whom Parcells has asked to be "more nitpicking" on his players.
And there stands Parcells, in the third year of a four-year deal, as obsessed as ever. He's been off the team's campus here exactly once, before the players arrived last week. Saw the beach. "Ah, somebody showed it to me," he said.
By changing, he's ready for things to go back to normal.
"I think I've changed how I'm going to approach my team," Parcells said. "I know I've changed that. What I'm going to be insistent on and what I'm going to put up with and what I'm not going to put up with. I made up my mind that this was going to be a working camp, and what I've tried to do is get things in good order as best I could."
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