The excitement from the off-season has most of us on 'highs' this year. Above and beyond the great additions we have acquired during this off-season, with great new positional coaches and the biggest free-agent class we have had in years. And of course, there was the surprisingly aggressive move up to 'pick 6' during our draft, which completed with a very solid rookie class as well. It's hard not to be excited for the season this year.
I recently posted an article about the competition being created by JG that has me excited for training camp. I really didn't feel I had much material to write about until maybe the all the OTAs and mini-camps comes to an end. However, few weeks ago an article from NFL.com brought up by our own Tom Ryle about the 'top 10 most delusional fanbases', along with KD's recent article detailing how Vegas views us going into this season, it definitely allowed some moment of clarity from my off-season 'high'. While trying to remain unbiased viewing our team from the 'outside' perspective, I can understand to an extent on those above point of views. Then during a recent friendly discussion with a good friend of mine (who is a Vikings fan) finally inspired me to pen this article.
To help provide some background for this, we were having our usual discussions about football, NFL in general and our respective teams. I was in my usual Kool-Aid drinking state of mind while explaining how great our team looks this year and blurred out something like: “I can see us making a deep run in the play-offs this year, and looking like a dominant team through-out the regular season”. I mean, I technically feel this way every year during pre-season, but this time it was definitely a bit different, it is less 'hoping' and more 'believing'. But this friend of mine intelligently says what most non-cowboys fans would: “That's great! ...BUT what makes you so confident? When the last few years (your) team has been hyped during pre-season and flops when the time actually comes. You still have the same coach and still do not have any on-field 'leaders.”
So that is when I realized this excitement and 'belief' in our team I have formed is very hard to explain, as it seems to be more of a 'feeling', rather than something I can really put into words. With the trust I have in this process JG5000 has put together, I began to explain myself the best I could...
Follow me after the jump. (Please be prepared for a long read)
I want to preface this by saying this is just my perspective, I tend to think I'm a good reader of 'character', I try to understand someone's mental state from the words they are conveying and the approach they appear to have in life (the game). Take it for what it's worth, but this was how I answered my friend's questions.
There are actually many different aspects that make me 'believe' what I'm feeling, but mainly this was a change of 'Eras'. From the Parcells era to the Garrett (JG) era, I would consider Wade Phillips as the 'seat-warmer' before we ushered in the new JG era. We and the national media hyping us up due to the structure Parcells left us with, along with the amount of talent we had on the team (on paper). So to my friend's point, we have been hyped for pretty long time now and with nothing to show for it (1 play-off win). On top of that, the recent article from KD shows Vegas odds further drives home their perspective by under-valuing us (per KD's view). To me, this was a very valid and intelligent argument, since the core of the team is the same as the end of the Parcell's era minus one or two players. Add on to that, most 'outsiders' as I call them do not view Jason Garrett as a new coach in this transformation, since he has been here during the Phillips' seat-warming time period. All of this above with the cherry on top, is the question that I'm sure most of us are tired of by now...Romo's inability to be clutch and no leadership from anyone on the field, period. Helping us drive this point home was Hatcher and his off-season comments this year. I can definitely understand their perspective on the Cowboys in this light, I'm sure some of us were destroyed watching our team flame out at the end of the season in the past few years. Even with those memories clearly imprinted in my mind still, I truly believe we are headed in the right direction, this year and the foreseeable future. We will soon become a dominant team, to put it simply 'perennial contenders'.
I mentioned the competitive environment that JG was driving to install to the roster and culture of our team in the last post. I would like to start at the top even above the head coach briefly. Most 'outsiders' do not care or notice the reigns being slowly but surely handed over to Stephen Jones, and this day-to-day organizational process and decision making has been noticeable for all of us true fans that pour through the pages here at BtB. I very much agree with the idea that Jerry generally mirrors the coaches he hires, if the coach is focused with a clear and concise plan like Parcells, Jerrah will reflect that way to approaching his role, same as the opposite with Phillips' laid-back attitude and minimal focus, leaves Jerrah to his vices to wheel and deal for the likes of Roy Williams without consideration of mortgaging future, along with our infamous 'special-teams draft class of '09'. JG is just as focused in his process as Parcells was, but even more meticulous in his day-to-day and year-to-year preparation. Mainly because that's just how this guy is wired, we knew that even from his playing days, but also because I think Garrett understands he is an 'up-and-comer', considered to have the intangibles to be a great one, but still young and relatively inexperienced. We recently learned from the great Moose' interview that one hidden quality we all may have missed that JG possesses, is his control of his own Ego. This may have been the dividing factor in the fall of our great empire of the ‘90s. This was also the main point that I took away from the great Rich Eisan interview of the ‘Triplets’. Garrett's approach to the game is completely reflected in Jerry and Stephen's approach in the recent extension of contracts (structure) to our own players, the acquisition of this year's free-agent class, and the way the past few drafts has been conducted. This paradigm shift is starting from the very top and being installed all the way to the bottom of the playing roster.
The importance of a 'quality' head-coach is often over-looked by the more general fans. But the great organizations now and in times past usually had consistency in their leadership. The type of personalities that had success in these roles was all very different, but all had their ways to lead their respective teams to victories and sometimes even dynasties. Few examples would be the Pittsburg system (Rooneys and long-term coaches), New England's Kraft and Belichick tandem just to name a few in the present times as comparison. Jason Garrett provides us with just exactly that! It may be hard to anoint him already in his 2nd year as full-time head coach. But the approach, systems and culture he has created is fairly obvious to anyone that pays some attention to the Dallas Cowboys. Reflected in the words from the Triplets and Moose' recent interviews. This is what JG refers to as the 'Process', a word that is often repeated in many of his awesome (no-important-information given) interviews. This process has been picked up by even us fans, just to put in perspective how strong this culture is being built. Garrett has always had a hand in the Cowboys offense, for years even before his head coaching tenure. But at those points, I do not think he was trying to have too heavy of influence on the overall scope of the team, as he was trying not to step on Phillips' toes, while focusing on doing his role to the best of his ability with limited control. In hind-sight, he did a good job with consistency, though some of the mis-haps often were more visual when our offensive line collapsed 3 out of last 4 years due to various reasons each year. However, even with that most of us can see the excellence in overall yearly performance since he has been here. Without a doubt Garrett still has much to learn, about play-calling, game management and maturing more as the true leader of the team (head coach). What he has shown so far, the culture and team environment that has been created in just two short years is quite amazing. Just think back to how our team look (general scope of interactions and camaraderie) back in the 'Hard Knocks' days, compare that to now? ...how far have we come is a real contrast just from the few player interviews we've heard up to date (which I will go a little more into details further down).
So if most 'outsiders' barely even consider the importance of Jason Garrett's presence, I can only assume the full off-season being provided to Rob Ryan to ‘actually’ install his creative defense and the sole reason for the excitement over the re-hiring of Mike Woicik is actually coming to fruits this year. The most under-rated move this off-season has to be the acquisition of Jerome Henderson, he's no longer an unknown to us here at BtB, in the short time being here with the 'Boys, we can already see very clearly this guy is passionate and smart, has potential written all over him to continue to grow into higher coaching positions in the near future. The importance of this hire is not merely the person that Jerome happens to be, but the connection back to Rob Ryan, we can tell just from the old video clips that Rob needs to play many different types of coverage on the back-end to be fully successful in what he is trying to achieve week in, week out with his genius game planning abilities that's been touted by everyone, even the national media outlets. The two hires that sort of flew under the radar last year were Receiver's coach Robinson from GB and Matt Eberflus that came along with Rob Ryan at the same time, so he was obviously overshadowed (pun intended). I don't think Laurent Robinson's success and Dez's maturity was by 'fluke', also keep in mind of the emergence of Sean Lee and continued success of Ware (even without back-end help last year). Our most visible weakness to most of the NFL was our offensive line, I can't go out on a limb yet to say we fixed that for sure, however, I do think the hiring of Bill Callahan injects a new breath of air to that position. In terms of coaching style, preference in trusting younger players and ability to communicate and relate to them a bit better from his experience as a college head coach could be a hidden factor, but I will admit this is the one thing that remains to be seen.
Now the part of the equation everyone (us and the outsiders) all look and consider is the player roster. We still have the same core group of players for the past few years, Romo is still the QB that can't finish the season and we still haven't managed to steal Ray Lewis from the Ravens yet, so why the excitement?... Well, this is the part that is going to take more intuition and understanding of the team. This is not something 'outsiders' can even come close to understanding, since you'd have to follow this team through the ups and downs for years to get this 'feel' for the change that is occurring. We have been a team full of 'star's for some years now, thinking back to the 'Hard Knocks'. We had TO running around with his shirt off yelling some random quote to the camera, but always put up his share on the field in terms of production. Same as most of our defense, even Bradie James and Ken Hamlin made the Pro-Bowl and were productive on paper, along with the rest of our core defenders in Ware, Ratliff and Newman. On the other side of the ball, we have Romo! Love him or hate him, he produces and amazes us each and every year. Miles just blew up into stardom from the same road travelled as Romo. Along with Witten being the consummate professional as usual, plus a solid offensive line that had pro-bowlers and good role players. What's changed?! They ask (outsiders).
The change is hard to see for the un-trained eye, and definitely impossible to see as an outsider who do not pay attention to the cowboys on the day in, day out basis. But instead of drawing just purely on 'feel', which is hard to put into words or have any type of fair argument for or against. I will try to explain it through some of the recent quotes from our players during recent interviews. Once again we will start from the top, the natural leader of each NFL team (or at least he better be), the Quarterback. So what's changed with Romo? Just looking back at last playing season, visually we can see Romo being more accountable and more 'in-charge', in the huddles and the game. His valiant effort to come back on to the field in the San Fran game was a loud response to his toughness. His unwillingness to fold at the end of the season even when our defense was not holding up and the offensive line was just not protecting him in the 4 games against our division rivals against Philly or New York. It was depressing to watch him struggle through that and still put up the best career numbers (on paper). The change is in his words my friends...Even as we were seemingly out of the play-offs, during an end of the year interview he goes on to say:
"The whole objective is to keep getting better, keep finding ways to improve, and if you're talented enough and good enough, you will lead your team to a Super Bowl. And that'll happen around here, it will."
To provide my 2cents on these words... when a man has faced pressure like what Romo had to shoulder since his first season which ended with that infamous botched snap in the play-offs, the weight of carrying the tag of 'choker' since that play cannot be easy to live with. He wants to be great and his approach has always been to get better each and every season, every day. This is completely the RKG approach Garrett is currently instilling through out the entire roster. But Romo has taken control of wins and losses on himself (in his mind), as clearly shown in the physical form when he felt the urgency to return to the game in week 2 to make sure we didn't get off to a slow start for our season. For someone who has been doubted publicly for this many years and on the verge of another non play-off season, he goes on to say something like that?! It shows me that he is fully committed to his goal, which is to win a Super-Bowl (or more). With those comments, while understanding the current view of him in the national media shows he is willing to die (figuratively) for his dreams. That alone is more powerful sign than any words that were spoken, so whether I'm reading into this too far or maybe my feeling is correct, I think his 'complete' dedication to football and 'his team' this off-season by not even trying to qualify for golf is a huge statement, that is under-valued but totally re-enforces my point in Romo's mentality. In that he is willing to do whatever it takes to achieve his goal. That's all I can ask for, so regardless of the result, Romo has grown in my list of favorite Cowboy Quarterbacks. But I will say, I'm fairly confident as proven through out history, when talent meets commitment and that 'do or die' attitude usually leads to success.
Aikman goes on during this off-season to help prove my point, providing his support for his old team and the current Quarterback:
"I know how quarterbacks are judged,” Aikman said, “but as far as his play-making ability and the things that he is capable of doing, he is a far more athletic quarterback, capable of making more plays than I ever was able to.”
“He has a good team around him,” Aikman said. “Hopefully – and I believe this will happen – he will win a Super Bowl before he is done playing.”
So what's changing with the rest of the team? Ray Lewis still isn't rallying our troops before the game! Our team has been stacked with 'Stars' on paper for some time now, with stars you get egos. Naturally, the talented are usually the leaders from whatever team they came from, college or former NFL teams. And leaders cannot be led unless they are 'willing' to be led OR when they feel ‘everyone’ is fighting for a common goal with self-sacrifice from all parties involved. We may not have a Michael Irvin on this team (yet), but when a bunch of talented natural leaders (Ware, Ratliff, Romo, Witten, Austin, etc.) all come together for one common goal, and you sprinkle that with the likes of Sean Lee, Tyron Smith, DeMarco Murray, even Dez Bryant's current approach and work ethic. You have talent and natural leaders all working hard and willing to sacrifice individually to achieve their ultimate goal. This is something you can see and hear within ALL of the recent player interviews. Here are some examples below…
Sean Lee on Leadership:
"I’ve always tried to work hard every day,” Lee said. “As leader you have to lead by example and you do that by working hard every day. Also, I’ll do anything I can to help the team. And I think the best leaders will do whatever they can to help the team.”
“If there’s something that needs to be addressed I have no problem addressing it,” Lee said. “I think all my teammates realize that I have their back. I want to see them do the best.
“I want to see our team win a Super Bowl and be successful, so I have no problem stepping up and saying something if I find something that I feel is wrong.
Jason Garrett along with most of our defensive players is already praising Lee in his approach and leadership qualities that are really starting to emerge this off-season. He will be a future leader of our defense for years to come; I foresee a Witten-like career for him on the defensive side of the ball (extremely high praise).
Miles also changed his approach to the game this off-season, also giving some props to our strength coach (Woicik):
"I felt prepared, but what I’m doing now with (strength and conditioning coach Mike) Woicik and our team is different than what I was doing.”
In a later interview Austin adds:
"It's a good feeling to be back...Some time off is good, but there's pro and cons to it. I'm sure you'd want to be a beach somewhere instead of (doing this), but it's fun to be out here, it's fun to be with the guys, working, so...it's a good thing."
"Who knows what's going to happen next, but we need to take care of what we need to do first, and that's being passionate, emotion and enthusiasm and that's what coach says, and that's how we operate out in practice and in the weight room and it carries on from there."
And to close of this interview he says:
"It's in the way we prepare, so it's not just saying how hungry you are, but it's your actions that show how hungry you are, so we'll see."
This is a guy who worked his way up the ranks as an undrafted free-agent, got his big payday and some thought he lost his hunger, work ethic questions surfaced due to hamstring injuries last year. But in an interview that was not directly fishing for those answers, his mental approach has answer those questions pretty loudly in this example. He's ready to work, be with the team and show with actions that he still has that 'hunger'.
Our boy who's just scratching the surface of his potential (Dez) chips in as well:
"Some of the game tape that I watched from last year, I wasn't really too proud of myself, and I know it's because of injuries," Bryant said. "I feel like this year, I'm spending more time focusing on my body and making sure everything is right."
"I see a big change in my weight, in my strength and everything," Bryant said. "Coach Woicik's doing a great job with us. I feel way more explosive coming out of my cuts."
After the first set of OTAs, Dez talks about expectations:
"But what I do know is, we coming to work hard everyday, and that's what anyone could possibly ask of us right now. It's important to put it all together, but what I'm focusing more on now is, trying to be the best that I can, that's about listening to the vets, doing everything right, and staying accountable, doing all the little things right. I just feel the rest will fall into place."
Romo also showing some confidence in Dez's maturity and work ethic:
"You get out there and watch him, he'll finish those drills," Romo said. "He'll run 30 yards after the catch. I'll tell you what, go watch him after a catch and see what he does. Play'll be over and he'll still be running 20 more yards. He's got a great upside. He's continuing to work his butt off, he's just going to get better and better every year."
Our boy Dez has been a media lightning-rod before he was even drafted, but to watch him mature in front of our eyes (and more importantly in the right direction) is simply amazing. All the talks of the potential and him just scratching the surface are all well and good. But if he keeps this approach going and actually fully taps into all that talent like we all envisioned, it will be a scary sight for the rest of the league. Just remember, in a self-admitted down year, he came away with 900+yds and 9TDs (minus a few games to injury).
The young work-horse (DeMarco) chimes in with his views on importance of OTAs and self-improvements:
“Learning experience, there is still lot of work to be done, far as protection and catching the ball. I didn't have the chance to have this last year, so it will definitely help my game a lot for this upcoming season."
"Last year was a good year, at the end of the day that was last year; I don't worry about last year. I had a good year, but this year is very important for me and for this team." He later adds: "You always have would of, could ofs, should ofs, but I'm just one guy. Felix is a great running back; he did well at the end of the year when I wasn't there. You definitely always want pieces there at the end of the year, but they did well."
What a rare ‘find’ this guy was for us, I would not count myself as excited when we drafted him in the third round last year with as many holes as we had in other positions. But do I ever see the value in the move now and just how far up he should have been ranked by more teams than just ours. We couldn't ask for a better mental approach from a young guy whose run him into the spot-light in just over half a season. He remains humble and focused on improving himself, while also crediting and embracing the running back rotation that we have in place. I can't wait to see what they can do with Vickers leading the way.
Our two newcomers and corner-stones to our defense talks about the team environment, first Carr speaking about his experience to America's team:
"Seeing new faces, trying to learn everybody still, I've been here for a couple months now, so getting kind of acclimated to the city. Now is just focusing on football, learning the terminology and get out here with my teammates, go out and making plays."
'Pick-6' talks about getting to be around the veterans for the first time:
"You can lean on those guys, and they want to help you. They not worried about you taking their spots or nothing. They have been very helpful, all the questions I have I go to those guys and they have no problems answering them for me." He adds: "I'm trying to do that with all the players, I'm trying to build a relationship with all these guys, they're my teammate, we going to be around each other. And I know that's how you win ball games too, that's having the experience and camaraderie with your team on and off the field."
To help close my point, here is Jason Hatcher to explain what he meant about the leadership comment, starting off speaking about leadership, in the response to a Sean Lee / leadership question:
"The moment Sean stepped on the field he was a leader, he just born that way, some guys have 'it', and some guys don't. He’s one of those guys that have 'it'. He is the first one at the facility and last one to leave. He's young, third year guy I think, but I look at him like a 10-year vet because how he approaches the game, how he goes about his business, how he studies, he's a guy that you can go up and talk to. He is so far ahead; I think he's been studying this whole off-season to get the defense down. I like his approach; he is a leader in our defense in my opinion, definitely one of them at least. I'm happy to have a guy like that."
"I don't regret nothing I said, I say whatever is in my heart, but you can take it or leave it. I wasn't dogging anyone; I wasn't dogging the leaders we have. I just felt like, guys can DO better...and guys HAVE stepped up. I like the way the team is going, we have camaraderie, guys looking out for each other, guys working together. That's the direction you have to go in order to get to the (championship). I'm very excited; I don't regret what I said." He added, "You just need more guys like that (Sean Lee), you can't except certain stuff, and we are not going to do it this year. It's a totally different team, we are taking an approach that's one-day-at-a-time. We are all trying to reach a common goal, which is the Super-bowl. I'm very happy the way the team is going, I'm excited! I'm ready to go for OTAs."
He goes on to explain he didn't make those comments to be that 'rah-rah' leader type guy on the team, as he prefers to lead through example of hard work and good approach to the game. Also expanding that because of the way he approaches the game, he will only respond to those that have the 'right approach' to the game, works hard and is accountable. He admits this off-season he has watched some things which have transpired that he (prayed for). Seeing guys step up, approaching the game the right way, he now feels it definitely is going in the right direction through the recent transformation and accountabilities of many of the teammates. He closes by explaining the changes he sees:
"Definitely, I see a lot of stuff I haven't seen since I've been here. I'm excited, guys accountable, guys working hard, holding each other accountable. Hanging out, getting to know each other. Because it's hard to play for the man across from you when you don't know him, but if you know him inside out, you know his family, you know him as a person, then you can go to war for him. And that's what we have right now, guys been up here two months ago, working-out TOGETHER. I'm getting excited just thinking about it right now, I'm ready to roll, just to see how the season turns out."
Hatcher more than made up for his comments that set off an up-roar this off-season (in my mind), at first I thought, as if we needed more finger-pointing about leadership from the inside. But in hind-sight, it almost seems like he used the media outlet to call-out some guys to step-up, if already a leader, step-up even more. And along with JG's process we can see this becoming a reality through their actions and their words.
When all the 'stars' on the team is aligned in achieving their ultimate goals and willing to put in extra work and sacrifice own time-off, golf, etc. for the better of the team. Those efforts and sacrifice will also translate on to the field of play once the season finally rolls around. If history has anything to say about it, the results for unwavering advancement towards your goals, along with effort and sacrifice usually leads to only one thing...Success. It comes when it comes, maybe this year, maybe not. But if this culture and approach is preserved through-out the future, we will become the perennial contenders that I had hoped for us to become.
This transition of 'Eras', this change in mental approach, and the growing accountability from top to bottom can be seen if you really pay attention. It is definitely more of a 'feel' than something easily put into words, especially when trying to argue against the outside perspective of our 'delusional fanbase'. But this was my take on why I feel so strongly that we are headed in the right direction, we will be a perennial contender for years to come and we will surprise some doubter even this year with a very strong showing. Most of the players comment pretty much sums it up for me that they are prepared for this year as a challenge, not a platter to be handed to them because they're a talented bunch on paper. So to take Hatcher's quote one last time...
."I'm getting excited just thinking about it right now, I'm ready to roll, just to see how the season turns out."