After the Cowboys’ 2008 season ended with a resounding crash, Jerry Jones made it clear that the organization would rethink it’s method of operation from the top on down. In recent years, one of the Cowboys’ most commonly scrutinized practices has been coach Wade Phillips’ laid back approach to training camp. While coach Phillips and offensive coordinator Jason Garrett have both pledged to toughen their methodology, they may not have much control over the tempo at practice. In 2009, "Camp Cupcake" will be staring down the barrel of 12 second-day draft picks, fighting for their NFL lives.
What do you get when you mix a few fringe veterans with 12 bloodthirsty rookies? Grizz has dubbed the Cowboys’ upcoming training camp Death Camp 2009. I guess you could call it NFL Deathmatch, or Survivor: Dallas. Whatever you want to call it, the competition is officially on like Donkey Kong. The Cowboys have starters in place for the most part, but everything after that is pretty much up for grabs. I seriously doubt Coach Phillips will have to do much to ratchet up the intensity at practice this year.
Other than the starters, who can relax now? Do you think Greg Ellis is lying around eating pork rinds after seeing the Cowboys select two young, athletic kids to play his position in ten picks apart? How comfortable can Pat Watkins, Alan Ball, or Courtney Brown be with three new defensive backs now in the picture? There may be guys on this roster who saw a certain name called Sunday and headed straight to the gym.
The psychology of this situation is the fascinating part. A veteran may feel disrespected because the team felt that it needed to upgrade that particular player’s position. The rookies are going to come in with an underdog mentality because they were 5th, or 6th, or 7th round picks. The veterans of course want to keep their jobs, and losing a training camp battle means more than just no longer being a Cowboy. Imagine being cut from an NFL team after being there a few years. Maybe you have a home in the area that you now have to sell. Maybe your wife loves it there, and your child likes his/her school. Maybe you’ve moved your mother to the Dallas area to be close to you, and she likes being there. Now you’ve got to pack all of that up, and move to a new city. Getting fired in the NFL means relocating your entire life. Now maybe there are some players on the roster who are ready for a fresh start elsewhere. But the guys who enjoy being a Cowboy have an awful lot to fight for.
Though the backups are the ones fighting for their lives, the intensity in practice will most likely affect the starters as well. For seasoned veterans, training camp is mostly about learning, developing rapport with new teammates, and just trying to stay healthy. For guys on the roster bubble, training camp is about trying to impress the coaching staff.
Remember, in training camp there are a lot of drills that will pit the first team offense against the second team defense and vice-versa. So what happens the first time Roy Williams catches a pass, and receives a little extra pop from some rookie cornerback who is only supposed to be wrapping up? We all know how Marion Barber deals with these type of situations, but it’s not a stretch to expect things to get a bit more chippie than usual. Even assuming the guys all keep it civil, nobody wants to get shown up by a rookie.
By injecting so much new blood into the roster, the Dallas Cowboys have created a competitive culture that might have been absent in recent years. With so many jobs on the line, this year’s training camp will almost certainly have a different feel.