New Face Making A Difference In Trenches

He's big, he's loud, and he's an all-pro, and the Cowboys are hoping Marco Rivera is the answer to their offensive line troubles. The 10-year vet comes to the Cowboys from the Green Bay Packers, where he anchored the offensive line as a seven-year-starter and three-time pro bowler.

"Marco has helped an awful lot," said head coach Bill Parcells. "He really stabilizes the right guard spot. That's something we've had some problems with last year."

"He brings great intensity and great knowledge of the game along with his physical skills," added quarterback Drew Bledsoe, "so I think he'll be a great addition for us."

"I also like his personality very much," said Parcells. "He has some very good leadership qualities. He's been very good for some of the young players.

"If my teammates and I aren't on the same page," explained Rivera, "they're probably going to hear about it, because this is our job. This is what we do for a living. You got to have some pride about that."

With Rivera on the right side, and nine-time pro bowler Larry Allen on the left, the Cowboys have the best pair of guards in the league. Sandwiched in between is Al Johnson, who had a solid year last year. He'll be pushed hard by Andre Gurode, who can now move to center from guard because of Rivera. Parcells also has high expectations for two-time pro bowler Flozell Adams, who he feels needs a challenge this year.

"The harder I've been on him, the better he's responded," said Parcells. "I've just tried to tell him that I'm not going to settle for less than he can do."

The only weakness seems to be at right tackle, where a host of young players are making a bid for the job. Second year man Jacob Rogers was the front runner before re-injuring his shoulder. Kurt Vollers and last years starter Torrin Tucker are also battling in an effort to silence the critics.

"We're just going to come out here everyday like we always do, work hard to get better and then maybe we can get that respect from everybody else that we have for ourselves," said Tucker.

Parcells has said the personality of the team is dictated by the offensive line. If that's the case, this team might not be too bad.

"As we currently are right now," said Parcells, "we have better quality and more depth since I've been here."

Parcells also credits new offensive line coach Tony Sparano for making a big difference. Sparano was the tight ends coach last year, and credited with helping turn Jason Witten into a pro-bowler.

Kevin Berns reporting.