How could Jason Garrett do this? By "this", I of course refer to his rather dumbfounding decision to go with what KD refers to as the Yuglies while cutting 60% of the starting offensive line from last year. The NFL is not exactly known for inventiveness and daring, being a place where you are much more likely to see an old idea tweaked and where coaches are hired based on who they learned from. The move to go with two rookies and a second year UDFA as your starters flies in the face of conventional wisdom.
This move has the outward appearance of being a huge leap of faith, a blind gamble by a man who has always appeared to be very intelligent and never without a well thought out plan. It is at once exhilarating in its audacity and frightening in the negative potentials it has. As the preseason unfolded and the Andre Gurode circus erupted, I started to wonder just what in the world made our favorite red haired Princeton graduate think he could pull this off. What did he know, looking at the Cowboys from the inside, that we fans didn't know.
I think the answer is that he knew he has Hudson Houck on his staff.
A brief introduction to those who don't know anything about Coach Houck. He is, first off, the oldest assistant on the Dallas Cowboys. He was born in 1943. In other words, he has been eligible for Social Security for three years. Or, to look at it another way, he is older than I am. And that is old. Of course, his age is not important.
His experience is. He started as a college assistant in the 70s and then broke into the pros with the Los Angeles Rams (yes, that's right) in 1983. He first worked on the Dallas staff in 1993, back in the glory days, staying for eight years and then getting hired again in 2008.
In 2003 Houck started (from left to right) Damion McIntosh, Kelvin Garmon, Jason Ball/Cory Raymer, Phil Bogle/Solomon Page and Courtney Van Buren. The Chargers went 4-12.
In 2004 he broke in five new guys, including two rookies and two veteran free agent signings. From left to right the Chargers started Roman Oben, Toniu Fonoti, Nick Hardwick, Mike Goff and Shane Olivea and San Diego went 12-4. Hardwick and Olivea were rookies that year.
Is it mere coincidence that the Cowboys are going with one of the youngest and most inexperienced offensive lines in the NFL with a line coach on the staff that did the same thing seven years ago? If you think so, I have some oceanfront property in Nebraska I can give you a good deal on.
Look at what has happened since the draft, and I see Hudson's fingerprints everywhere. Drafting three linemen? Check. Cutting Leonard Davis and Marc Colombo the first day teams can make personnel moves? Check. Deciding Andre Gurode should be replaced by Phil Costa? Check.
And if you think, as some, especially those who don't spend a lot of time here at BTB, do, that the Cowboys are throwing in the towel on the 2011 season by putting Tyron Smith, Bill Nagy and Costa in the starting lineup, think again. I will bet you that Hudson Houck pitched the idea that this team can win with the Yuglies long and hard to Jason Garrett. And Jason, to his credit, bought that it was at least possible.
In preseason, this looks like it could work. And the most remarkable thing is that Hudson is doing it without the benefit of Mike Woicik's expertise. Thanks to the lockout (which, when I think about it, sucked) the rookies missed an entire offseason of conditioning and exercise under his tutelage. It didn't do Kyle Kosier, Doug Free and Costa any favors, either. Woicik's program will help as the season progresses, but it would have had far more impact if the NFL and the players hadn't wasted so much time hammering out the new CBA.
Hudson Houck is also a great example of why it is often a good thing that coaches don't pay a lot of attention to the opinions of the fan base. Last year, there were many complaints that I remember reading here that he was over the hill and didn't have what it takes to make the most out of his players. Well, based upon the evidence of what I have seen, and more importantly on the analysis of some people here like KD Drummond and Musiccitynorm who are much better at this kind of thing than I am, that was not the case. Taking a logical approach, it seems reasonable that working with aging long term veterans with the accumulated wear and tear on their body has unavoidable built in limitations. Given young, hungry players (and one still capable and very smart veteran in Kosier), Hudson is showing that he may be old, but he still has game. In a very real sense, he is using his experience and skill to compensate for the lack in his new lineup.
Finally, I also love what this says about the way Jason Garrett is running this team. A good leader knows when and how much to delegate, when to tell his staff what to do and when to listen and use their advice. Garrett has three years working with Hudson, and he obviously kept him on the staff for very good reasons.
I like to call this the Season of Hope. That is a still fragile thing, but right now, it is definitely alive. And Hudson Houck deserves a large part of the credit. Here's hoping he continues to deliver.