Party time? Excellent?
The answers to those questions -- for Wade and for us -- are months away. In the meantime, it's amazing to see how much he's turned over the defense in just two years. Like Bill Parcells, Wade Phillips was mostly content to play with the hand dealt him his inaugural year. Yes, the Cowboys selected Anthony Spencer in the first round, but he was a hedge against a slow rehab by Greg Ellis, who had torn an Achilles tendon in the Tuna's final go-round.
Wade went 13-3 with Bill's guys, and went one-and-out in the playoffs when the backup corner depth let him down. Jacques Reeves and Nate Jones couldn't hold up against the Patriots and Giants of the world and Anthony Henry wasn't getting any younger. To no one's surprise, Mike Jenkins and Orlando Scandrick got early attention in last year's draft.
What may have surprised some is how big a second helping of defensive back seven help Wade and the scouts took this year: three of Dallas' first five picks were for linebackers. Then, four of the next six picks went on secondary players, though Stephen Hodge will likely be groomed to take Kevin Burnett's nickel linebacker role, if top pick Jason Williams doesn't beat Hodge to it.
This means that before Wade Anno Tre even begins, the heart of Bill's last '06 defensive back seven has either departed or is on very thin ice. Consider:
In the secondary, only Terence Newman is assured a starting spot. And only Pat Watkins remains from the backups, though the odds are not in Watkins' favor, with Orlando Scandrick getting some consideration for nickel safety and rookie DeAngelo Smith sure to get his shot. If Watkins gets cut, only one Parcells guy will remain on a unit that usually carries nine players.
Still, from '06: Terence Newman
Out: Anthony Henry, Keith Davis, Roy Williams, Jacques Reeves, Nate Jones, Aaron Glenn, Abram Elam
Maybe: Pat Watkins
At linebacker, Demarcus Ware and Bradie James are keepers from the Parcells era. As with the secondary, everybody else is either gone, or on a rent-don't-buy edict.
Still, from '06: Demarcus Ware, Bradie James
Out: Akin Ayodele, Greg Ellis, Al Singleton, Kevin Burnett, Ryan Fowler
Maybes: Bobby Carpenter, Justin Rogers
Carpenter is the Watkins of linebackers. He'll get first crack at filling Burnett's shoes, but he may be little more than a placeholder if Jason Williams or Hodge can develop quickly. Rogers wasn't on the '06 team, arriving as a waiver claim after the final '07 cutdowns, but he's another Bruce Read Era special teams maybe; he's made the team with his kick coverage skills, but can't get on the field in regular defensive packages. That spells trouble in a year when Dallas drafted heavily for special teams.
The bottom line is a grim one if you're a member of the Parcells-Ireland Academy. Linebackers and secondary players get seventeen to eighteen spots on a roster. This year, we're going to see five Tuna guys at most and as few as three in those two corps.
Anybody want to guess that Dallas won't go hard for defensive linemen next year, whether Wade returns or not? Four Parcells guys are still around, but three, Marcus Spears, Jason Hatcher and Stephen Bowen, know they need to crank it up a notch or two or the scouts will come for their jobs too.