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Is He Up to Par(cells)?

Times Staff Writer

Drew Bledsoe set passing records and got to the Super Bowl as a young quarterback for the New England Patriots and then-coach Bill Parcells. But they came up short of a title. Now, a decade later, the two will try again -- this time for the Dallas Cowboys.

The last time they were together, Bledsoe was trying to establish himself among the NFL’s top quarterbacks. This time, at age 33, he’ll be trying to prove he can still perform up to his previous standard.

“Now, as to when I was 21, there’s a lot more give-and-take,” Bledsoe said this week at one of the Cowboys’ final practices in Oxnard before they break training camp Sunday. “But a lot is still the same. You still work hard and focus on the same stuff.”

Bledsoe will be looked on to provide guidance to a team that was inconsistent on offense and finished 6-10 last season after making the playoffs in Parcells’ first year. His leadership was apparent at practice, where he offered encouragement to teammates after every successful offensive play.

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Parcells has noticed a difference, saying Bledsoe has learned additional facets of the game since he last coached him.

“He’s a grown man,” Parcells said. “He’s much different than being a 20-year-old out of college. He has four children now and his maturity has come a long way. I’m able to communicate with him on a much different level.”

A four-time Pro Bowl selection, Bledsoe, 6 feet 5 and 238 pounds, needs only 192 yards to become the 10th quarterback in NFL history to accumulate 40,000 passing yards. He ranks in the top 20 on the league’s all-time lists in completions, passing attempts, yards and touchdowns.

On the flip side, he has been known to hold onto the ball too long, having been sacked 402 times, including 140 in his three seasons with the Buffalo Bills, to whom the Patriots traded him after he was beset by injuries and made expendable by the rise of Tom Brady.

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“You get a sense for knowing when to get rid of it as you get older,” Bledsoe said. “I’ve always made it an emphasis to get the ball away and get it to guys on time. As a competitor, you want to make every play successful.”

Parcells said he was still working with Bledsoe on identifying when to throw the ball away and not make a bad situation worse.

“He just doesn’t want to give up on the play,” Parcells said. “So, I’m trying to get him to throw it out on time as much as I can. I’m pretty hard on him about that.”

But is he the same quarterback who did not throw more touchdowns than interceptions until his fourth NFL season?

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“Not at all,” Parcells said. “He was just throwing it indiscriminately then.”

Bledsoe has a firm grasp on the starting position, a welcome relief for the Cowboys after last season’s quarterback carousel.

A year ago, incumbent Quincy Carter was released in camp amid allegations of a failed drug test and 40-year-old Vinny Testaverde became the starter. Also playing was football-turned-baseball-turned-football player Drew Henson, who started one game after the team lured him away from the New York Yankees with a guaranteed $3.5 million over eight years.

Henson, whom Parcells has been hesitant to hand the offense to, probably will break camp as the third-string quarterback. Tony Romo, who has yet to throw an NFL pass, will be Bledsoe’s backup.

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“I honestly have to see more from the quarterback position,” Parcells said. “We are at the tail end of our installation. We have it in, but it’s a long way from being perfected.”

Bledsoe, who played nine seasons with the Patriots before joining the Bills for three, is one of four Super Bowl quarterbacks who this season will be looking to recapture their legacy. The others are Oakland’s Kerry Collins, Cleveland’s Trent Dilfer and Arizona’s Kurt Warner.

“I just hope we can get him to play efficiently,” Parcells said. “He did a pretty good job last year once they got all the pieces in play in Buffalo and that’s not the easiest place to play quarterback.”

Bledsoe will hand off to Julius Jones, a running back from Notre Dame who showed flashes of brilliance in his rookie season. The receivers include Terry Glenn, one of Bledsoe’s favorite targets in New England, and Keyshawn Johnson.

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The Cowboys also have third-year tight end Jason Witten, who is coming off an 87-catch, six-touchdown season.

“We have some great tight ends,” Bledsoe said. “Witten’s a special talent. Probably the best tight end I’ve had since Ben Coates. And Dan Campbell brings a physical presence along with good receiving skills.”

Although Bledsoe hasn’t led a team to the playoffs since 1998, he had a pivotal victory in the 2001 AFC title game against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Bledsoe replaced an injured Brady and led the Patriots to their only offensive touchdown in a 24-17 upset.

Bledsoe, who opened that season as the team’s starter but was sidelined after a Mo Lewis hit caused internal bleeding in his chest, didn’t play in the Patriots’ Super Bowl victory over the St. Louis Rams.

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“If I was looking to get a fair situation in football or life, I’d be a little bit crazy,” Bledsoe said.

Well, he may not be crazy, but surrounded by talent and having been reunited with Parcells, he may have found a fair situation.

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

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Bledsoe’s record

Drew Bledsoe’s year-by-year statistics in the NFL:

Year; Team; G; GS; Att; Cp; Pct.; Yds; TD; Int; Sacks/Yds; Rat.

1993; New England; 13; 12; 429; 214; 49.9; 2,494; 15; 15; 16/99; 65.0

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1994; New England; 16; 16; 691; 400; 57.9; 4,555; 25; 27; 22/139; 73.6

1995; New England; 15; 15; 636; 323; 50.8; 3,507; 13; 16; 23/170; 63.7

1996; New England; 16; 16; 623; 373; 59.9; 4,086; 27; 15; 30/190; 83.7

1997; New England; 16; 16; 522; 314; 60.2; 3,706; 28; 15; 30/258; 87.7

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1998; New England; 14; 14; 481; 263; 54.7; 3,633; 20; 14; 36/295; 80.9

1999; New England; 16; 16; 539; 305; 56.6; 3,985; 19; 21; 55/342; 75.6

2000; New England; 16; 16; 531; 312; 58.8; 3,291; 17; 13; 45/264; 77.3

2001; New England; 2; 2; 66; 40; 60.6; 400; 2; 2; 5/21; 75.3

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2002; Buffalo; 16; 16; 610; 375; 61.5; 4,359; 24; 15; 54/369; 86.0

2003; Buffalo; 16; 16; 471; 274; 58.2; 2,860; 11; 12; 49/371; 73.0

2004; Buffalo; 16; 16; 450; 256; 56.9; 2,932; 20; 16; 37/215; 76.6

Totals; 172; 171; 6,049; 3,449; 57.0; 39,808; 221; 181; 402/2,733; 76.7

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