IRVING, Texas (AP) – Drew Bledsoe is graying just a tad and he tries getting home from practice in time to have dinner with his wife and four kids. Those things happen when a guy grows up.

Age and experience have made Bledsoe more responsible as a quarterback, too, at least compared to when he last played for Bill Parcells. And that’s exactly what Parcells is counting on this season with the Dallas Cowboys.

Instead of the “high-wire act” they ran together a decade ago in New England, Parcells is asking Bledsoe to be a wise, efficient leader, someone who occasionally makes big plays while almost always avoiding disastrous ones.

“He understands this management thing is very important to me,” Parcells said. “He’s making his best effort to do that.”

The early results are encouraging.

Bledsoe finished the preseason without an interception in 45 attempts and was sacked only four times for 24 yards. The key is that Parcells really tested him, giving him a practically unworkable game plan in the opener, then finally loosening the reins the last two games.

His final four drives produced two touchdowns, a field goal and a missed 31-yarder. Bledsoe was 5-for-5 on the first touchdown drive, against Houston last Saturday, then Thursday night against Jacksonville he hit his first seven passes, including a 40-yarder to Terry Glenn for a touchdown.

However, his last pass of the preseason was probably his worst, a 9-yard floater into quadruple coverage that bounced off several hands on its way out the back of the end zone.

“Bill said when he brought me in here, “You’ve got to be smart. We’re not going to throw the ball like a high-wire act, living life on the edge all the time,”‘ Bledsoe said. “We’re going to play the percentages a little more. From that standpoint, I think it’s been a good preseason.”

Bledsoe’s experience with Parcells should help, too, especially when he inevitably goes over that edge.

Bledsoe began enduring Parcells’ wrath in 1993 in New England. He was only 21 – single, with no kids and all brown hair – and he was the No. 1 overall pick of the draft. Parcells was getting back into the NFL after a two-year layoff following his second Super Bowl title. The Patriots were coming off a 2-14 season and needed all the coaching and talent they could get.

Realizing the team would go as far as Bledsoe could throw them, Parcells told him to let it rip. He set the single-season record for passes in 1994, then followed with two more years among the top five. It worked, too, as New England reached the Super Bowl in their fourth season.

Then Parcells took off and Bledsoe’s career began to swirl.

He famously lost his job to Tom Brady in 2001 following a hit that left him in a hospital with bleeding in his chest. After watching the Patriots win the Super Bowl from the sideline, Bledsoe was traded to Buffalo. He made the Pro Bowl his first year, but couldn’t get the Bills into the playoffs over three seasons and was released in February to make way for an unproven youngster.

The Cowboys snatched him up immediately in what many viewed as yet another reunion between Parcells and one of “his guys.”

Sure it is. But it also makes sense.

Parcells went through Quincy Carter his first year in Dallas and 41-year-old Vinny Testaverde last year. A 32-year-old Bledsoe who feels he has something to prove could be what the Cowboys need to bounce back from a 6-10 season.

Parcells’ plan to get back to the playoffs is based on a revamped defense and an offense led by second-year running back Julius Jones. Bledsoe ranks no higher than third and could be fourth considering the emphasis Parcells puts on special teams.

The goal for Bledsoe – who next Sunday in San Diego will become Dallas’ eighth starter since Troy Aikman – is to complement Jones. He’s supposed to move the chains with throws to Keyshawn Johnson and rapidly emerging tight end Jason Witten and occasionally go deep to Glenn as a reminder to defenses of what can happen if they load up against the run.

What he’s not supposed to do is throw more interceptions than touchdowns, like Testaverde (20 INTs, 17 TDs) and Carter (21, 17) did. Parcells would tolerate the TD total being down as long as the INTs are way down.

Almost as important is avoiding sacks, the “negative plays” that Parcells detests. Over his three years in Buffalo, Bledsoe averaged nearly three sacks for 19.9 yards lost per game. He’s often criticized for his lack of mobility and his tendency to hold the ball too long.

Parcells’ other big objective for Bledsoe is converting more third downs. Avoiding them altogether or having only a few yards to go fit that category, too.

“He has a wealth of experience beyond where he was when I (last) had him,” Parcells said. “He’s a much more mature, understanding quarterback. I don’t feel like he views himself as the centerpiece. I think he looks at himself like I have to be a main cog in the wheel, but not the only one.”

Bledsoe and Glenn seem to have picked up where they left off with the Patriots, and Witten already has proven to be a reliable target. Clicking with Johnson was tough at first, but it’s coming along.

“I think you’ll see when we get into more extensive time on the field that those guys will certainly catch the ball a lot more,” Bledsoe said. “When we need to put the pedal down a little bit, we’re going to be ready to do that.”

OK, Drew, but remember this: Parcells won’t tolerate any reckless driving.

AP-ES-09-02-05 1606EDT


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