- John Clayton, NFL senior writer
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OXNARD, Calif. -- Bill Parcells has gone retro. He's assembled as much of his Jets offense from 1998 and 1999 as he could with the acquisitions of quarterback Vinny Testaverde, receivers Keyshawn Johnson and Dedric Ward and halfback Richie Anderson.
In addition, he's sprinkled in wide receiver Terry Glenn from his Patriots days. Throw in halfback Eddie George from the Titans and the Cowboys can say they've got the AFC Pro Bowl offense of 1998. But isn't this 2004?
"Me, Vinny, Eddie George, Richie Anderson, Dedric Ward, Terry Glenn and Bill Parcells -- it's a bunch of rejects," Johnson said. "We're players other teams didn't want. That's fine for me. I'm having a ball, a blast. I think it's going to be a very good team. If everybody stays healthy, I think we will be good."
Parcells has done it before. He's so good as a head coach that, as Bum Phillips used to say, he can take "his" and beat "yours" or take "yours" and beat "his." But these moves are a little different. Usually, he fills leadership roles on defense with former players of his who know the Parcells methods and schemes. Will the same work on offense?
Keyshawn thinks it can.
"He puts me in different positions to utilize my talents," Johnson said. "The coaching staff doesn't sit up in meetings and say, 'He can't run this route or because this route is only for somebody who can run 4.3 on the clock.' The guy who runs 4.3 usually gets coaches fired because they can't perform at a high level."
Parcells works miracles. With minimal change, he took a Dave Campo roster that had three consecutive 5-11 seasons and turned it into a 10-win playoff team. Year 2 features some tinkering. He sacked his quarterback Quincy Carter after he failed a test for substance abuse and was going to be suspended four games. He cut his rushing leader Troy Hambrick, who is currently running fourth-team in Oakland. He traded Joey Galloway's deep speed for Keyshawn's dependability and passion for going across the middle.
Slowly, he's assembling the type of roster that fits his Super Bowl profile. His two drafts have been used to find good football players to fit the roles he needs to win games down the stretch of the season. For example, he's developing bigger outside linebacker Bradie James to take some playing time away from Dexter Coakley.
"Before Bill got here, you'd play every down and it takes a lot of gas out of your tank," defensive end Greg Ellis said. "It's an initial adjustment going down to 40 to 50 plays a game. In the heat of battle, you get frustrated because you want to play more, but at the end of the day, you see you are playing better being on the field a little less. Your production is better. Tongues aren't hanging out of the corner of your mouths."
Parcells preaches that it isn't just the starters on the teams that win Super Bowls but it's also the guys who come off the bench. He's worrying about the third offensive tackle or the fourth defensive end or tackle in a rotation. The Cowboys picked up an extra first-round pick from Buffalo to further enhance their building process.
But this year, perhaps more than any other in Parcells' history of turnarounds, he's relying on a lot of offensive blasts from the past to stay with or top the Eagles and Redskins in the competitive NFC East. In 1998, Parcells took the Jets to the AFC title game. Can some of those key players revive the magic?
Earlier this week, Testaverde continued to settle into the starting quarterback job vacated by the release of Carter. Much of the controversy has gone. Parcells won't speak anymore about the departed Carter. This is now Vinny's offense. At the age of 40, Testaverde is trying to make one last stab as a starter.
"This really rejuvenates you and makes you feel young again," Testaverde said and then paused. "Well, I wouldn't say young. A little younger. I'm trying to have fun with it. I'm toward the end of my career. I'm trying to make the best of this situation."
A lot has changed for Testaverde since playing for Parcells. The Jets kept him around as a backup but he's still been able to start 11 games over the past two seasons. He still has the strong arm. Conditioning has always been one of his specialties. But, it's clear, he lost the mobility that used to be an asset.
The right Achilles tendon tear from 1999 tugs at his speed. In practice, Testaverde ran a naked bootleg and actually moved pretty good -- well, let's say pretty good for a 40-year-old quarterback with a repaired Achilles tendon.
Believe it or not, this is the first time in three summers Testaverde has done two-a-days. A thumb injury from a couple of years ago made Herman Edwards notice Testaverde looked a little fresher when held to one practice. Parcells runs a thorough camp and even though he doesn't wear them out with hitting, he needs his starting quarterback on the field twice a day.
Testaverde doesn't mind. He's having fun. In fact, getting back with his former coach has made football fun again for him. It wasn't that way in New York over the past few years.
"Last November I remember sitting back and thinking I wasn't enjoying what I was doing," Testaverde said. "But I made a commitment to the team I was going to fulfill. I waited until the offseason got here and took it from there."
Testaverde, George and others are bridging the generation gap until younger players take over. In top choice Julius Jones, Parcells hopes he's found his Curtis Martin, a workhorse back who can be as dangerous with his feet as he can be with his hands as a receiver out of the backfield. On draft day, the Cowboys charged up critics by passing on Steven Jackson and trading down to get Jones.
The Cowboys will pound the ball more with the running game this season, but did Parcells actually think he could put all the pressure on Jones to carry the load on a playoff contender? Then the Titans cut George. Problem solved. George can handle the ball 18 carries a game and go into the middle of the line to wear down defenses. Jones can get six to eight carries and develop at a less pressured pace.
"It's a good thing they brought Eddie in," Jones said. "He's a guy who's been around for a while and knows the ups and downs. I'm looking forward to learning from him and contributing to the team."
Drew Henson is in a similar situation. He has all the raw skills to fit what Parcells wants in a quarterback. He's got a strong arm. He's mobile enough. At Michigan, he ran one of the most productive passing offenses in college football. But three years of being in the Yankees farm system have him trying to get the rust off his game.
Carter's release enhances the chances Henson will play sometime this season. It's up to Testaverde to stay healthy as long as he can so Henson isn't put on the field when he's not completely ready to succeed.
"We're splitting the reps each day," Henson said. "You rarely see the quarterback make it through the whole season. It's physical. Chances are at some point, it happens although you don't wish anybody gets hurt. But that's the nature of the sport."
Each day in practice, Parcells stands with his arms crossed watching and thinking. He's one of the best at seeing what a player does best and puts him in a position to succeed. He's not tied to systems such as the West Coast offense or the Rams' and Chiefs' quick-passing sets.
"In Tampa, one of the frustrating parts for me being in that system was the way it's designed," Johnson said. "In that system, certain people can run certain stuff and that was that. Here, everybody runs everything. You don't hear coaches say he can't run a reverse. That's not true. This is not a system. The West Coast offense is a system. That's all they are going to do. Here, it's game plans. You don't want to be stuck in someone's bottled-up system."
Testaverde has been freed from Paul Hackett's West Coast offense in New York. Johnson has his Jon Gruden days behind him. And Parcells is hoping the magic of some of his offenses from the late '90s can work in '04.
Senior writer John Clayton covers the NFL for ESPN.com.
Coach Bill Parcells has brought in a number of his former players in an attempt to improve the offense.