OXNARD, Calif. -- Before the Dallas Cowboys opened training
camp, a veteran player already was squawking about his new role,
especially since he didn't get his long-term contract reworked to
help make him feel better about it.
Terrell Owens? Hardly.
The notion that Ellis would cause more headaches than Owens --
or, at least, before Owens -- is shocking. To Ellis, so is the
change coach Bill Parcells is demanding.
After playing his entire career at defensive end, Ellis is being
put into a hybrid role that essentially makes him a linebacker --
and keeps him on the sideline far more often than he's accustomed.
The problem is that at 270 pounds, Ellis isn't big enough to
play end in Parcells' 3-4 scheme. Replacement Chris Canty weighs
300 pound and left-side starter Marcus Spears is 298. Backups Jason
Hatcher and Kenyon Coleman are both 295.
But Ellis remains one of the team's best quarterback chasers,
having led the team in sacks all but once the last seven seasons.
That's why Parcells still has a spot for him as a pass-rushing
linebacker, a position he's carved out for players in New York and
New England, most notably Willie McGinest on the Patriots.
"There are players, these in-between DE and LB types is the
best way to describe it, they can have a good role in the 3-4
defense," Parcells said.
Ellis was wary of how he'd fit in the 3-4 last year, but started
the first 13 games. Then Canty took over. Now this.
Sure, there's a chance things will work out. There's also a
chance the experiment fails and Dallas winds up cutting him, likely
after this season. Plenty of teams would want to sign him, but for
less money, probably far less since, coming off a poor season, he'd
have little leverage.
So Ellis' solution was asking for more upfront money, sort of as
a good-faith gesture. The team declined and the grumbling began. It
peaked Thursday when he got off the flight to training camp and
told reporters, "I still don't want to be here."
Parcells didn't care that Ellis wanted to be released or traded.
"We don't have any plans to do anything with him," Parcells
said Friday at his camp-opening news conference. "He's going to
have to play here or he could retire if he wanted to. Those are his
two choices right now."
Ellis has clammed up since then. After practice on Saturday, he
said he'd talk on Sunday. Then he left the field Sunday hiding
between a pack of teammates; he relayed through a team official
that he wanted to wait a few more days.
What matters more is what Ellis is telling Parcells and other
coaches. And, so far, all seems well. He and Parcells even smiled
during a one-on-one chat during a water break Saturday.
"I have a pretty good relationship with Greg," Parcells said
Sunday when asked about their conversation. "I think both of us
separate the business side of this game from the playing side of
this game. Actually, we were just talking about some technical
things and not anything else."
The technical part matters a lot now. How Ellis adjusts to all
the nuances of his new job will determine how much he plays. After
all, he can't strictly be used as a pass rusher.
"I don't know what we're going to do," Parcells acknowledged.
"We're going to let him do some of the drills. It's not like I'm
dealing with a rookie and he doesn't know how to play the other
position. I'm just trying to see how he looks doing some of these
other things and we'll see how he does with it."
Asked whether Ellis will have a meaningful role, Parcells said,