I got knocked on the threads for comparing the '05 Cowboys to the '90 model, but one parallel is too strong to ignore.
Between '90 and '92, Jimmy Johnson force-fed twelve draftees into his lineup. The majority played on defense, and allowed him to field the youngest and deepest squad in the league, one that earned a top ranking in the first Super Bowl year of '92. Look at the rookies who got extensive playing time in that span (starters in bold):
1990: Emmitt Smith, Jimmie Jones;
1991: Russell Maryland, Alvin Harper, Dixon Edwards, Erik Williams, Leon Lett, Kenny Gant, Larry Brown;
1992: Kevin Smith, Robert Jones, Darren Woodson.
That's ten starters, seven on defense, and two key role players in Jones and Gant. One reason the '90 and especially the '91 teams started so slowly was Johnson's fearlessness in playing the kids; he was willing to endure short-term pain for long-term gain. The results speak for themselves.
Fast forward to last Sunday. If you were following the rapid-fire rotations on both sides of the ball you must have had a warm sense of deja-vu, for Bill Parcells' team is enjoying a Jimmy-like rejuvenation. He's done Jimmy one better, fielding thirteen draftees from the past three years. Seven are starters and six more are key reserves:
2003: Terence Newman, Al Johnson, Jason Witten, Bradie James;
2004: Julius Jones, Patrick Crayton, Jacques Reeves;
2005: Demarcus Ware, Marcus Spears, Chris Canty, Kevin Burnett, Rob Petitti, Jay Ratliff;
Parcells has placed a lot of faith in this year's class and is seeing early dividends. Ware and Petitti are solid. Spears is rounding into shape and gets more playing time as he does. Canty may be the best of the bumper crop of defenders, as he's brought the playmaking ability he flashed in camp into games. Ratliff was inactive for the first three games but has come on strong. He got two series against the Raiders and shared a sack. Last week he became a regular member of the nickel rotation, pairing with LaRoi Glover. Ratliff may be the new Jimmie Jones, a pass rushing specialist from the 4-3 tackle position.
Dat Nguyen's injury gave Burnett his first significant playing time and he used it effectively. Burnett is pure speed. He and Jason Ferguson blew up a Lamar Gordon run early in the game and came within a foot of recording a safety. He added pop to the Cowboys' coverage teams, which have overcome a horrible start and now resemble last year's league-leading units. Burnett will get more time, even after Nguyen returns. He has too much talent to keep on the sidelines.
Parcells has said that "history means nothing in football," but he should hope that history repeats itself; Big Bill has matched Jimmy's sputtering '90 and '91 starts. If his rookies finish the way their predecessors did, the good times will be back.