|Two of the Cowboys' most galvanizing personalities -- Terrell Owens and Adam Jones -- compete at camp.|
Through the early part of training camp, the Cowboys have reason to feel good about providing a second chance to Jones and Johnson.
As long as that feeling doesn't change between now and the end of the season, it is reasonable to say the Cowboys could very well end up looking to the duo with troubled pasts to be key ingredients in a Super Bowl run.
"Anytime you get a second opportunity in this league, you have to really embrace it," Johnson said. "Jerry Jones and the Dallas Cowboy family took me in and they gave me an opportunity to recreate myself as a good player and reinvent my name in a positive way."
Johnson, a highly talented defensive tackle, signed with the Cowboys last September, three months after he was released by the Chicago Bears. Before setting foot on the field last season, he served an eight-game suspension for violating the NFL's personal conduct policy when he violated probation on a gun charge while with the Bears. He was reinstated in November.
Jones, a highly talented cornerback and kick-returner, was traded to the Cowboys from the Tennessee Titans last April and signed a four-year contract with Dallas. Commissioner Roger Goodell suspended him for all of the 2007 season for off-field issues, the largest of which was his involvement in a shooting at a strip club in Las Vegas. Goodell gave Jones partial re-instatement last June, and, if he can stay out of trouble, he should get full re-instatement on Sept. 1.
"To me, he's doing all the right things (for full reinstatement)," coach Wade Phillips said. "We'll have to wait and see what happens."
That applies to Johnson as well.
He has spoken with Jones at great length about their similar circumstances. They can relate to what it's like to walk on the wrong side of the law and to what it takes to repair the damage they've done to themselves, their families, and careers.
"He and I have essentially walked the same path," Johnson said. "And we both know, and so does every other player in this league, that Roger Goodell is not playing with us. He has a tremendous responsibility to uphold the integrity of this league. I tell Adam all the time, 'Guys like you and me, we've run out of chances. It's not really about making mistakes now; it's more about moving forward.'"
One reason he felt they were worth the risk is, of course, their ability to help the Cowboys win. But it was equally important for him to see that they worked hard and were not involved in substance abuse.
"And they fundamentally are smart enough to know they've lost all of the benefit of the doubt collateral," the owner said. "You give me somebody like that and I'd like to get in the foxhole with them. You've certainly got odds against it, but you've also got some odds of hitting a home run."
Adam Jones has been drawing favorable early reviews for his performance in practice. He has made a point of lining up across from Terrell Owens as often as possible because he wants to challenge himself by working against one of the best receivers in the league. The first time around, Owens beat him for a long touchdown. Thereafter, Jones has pretty much held his own. Phillips is particularly impressed with how the cornerback is able to track the ball in the air without losing track of the receiver.
Adam Jones' play and his conduct are drawing respect from his teammates.
"It hasn't just been given to him," linebacker Greg Ellis said. "He just hasn't received a pat on the back and you say, 'Okay, because you're an outstanding football player, we're just going to pretend nothing happened.' Attention has been paid to it, and I think he has, if you will, served his time. And now he's ready to put that behind him and he's ready to play."
Johnson is performing well enough to allow the Cowboys to move Jay Ratliff from defensive tackle to compete with Marcus Spears at left end. The defensive coaches are thrilled because Ratliff is more of a playmaker, while Spears is solid but unspectacular.
They're even happier that the only place Johnson is proving to be a disruptive force is on the field.
"I think the farther you get away from the trouble you've been in, I think the easier it is to handle everyday life," Johnson said. "Initially, right away, you kind of feel like you're on egg shells with everything. But as it gets farther away, it gets easier to concentrate on football and becoming a better player and becoming a better teammate. This should be a long career here in Dallas. I'm excited about the opportunity."
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