For Dallas Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett, RKG is not just a term to apply to players.
I got accused a little bit ago by a certain statistical genius (and suspected Overlord of the Google) of being a homer.
To which my second response was "Guilty." (My first response was "Doh!", but it turns out he wasn't talking about that Homer.) I am homer. I love me some Dallas Cowboys. And I think one of the best things to happen to them since, oh, about 1994, is the hiring of one Jason Garrett as head coach. I am of the opinion that the culture of a football team can be the difference between a successful franchise and, say, one that has only won a single playoff game in the past decade and a half. (No, Virginia, byes don't count.)
Ever since Garrett was given the interim head coaching position, I have been completely in agreement with his idea of the Cowboy Way, and of finding the Right Kind of Guys to play for the team. I think that this has become a key criterion for the team in evaluating the players it is considering signing or drafting. It is why I have a perhaps overabundant sense of optimism about the 2012 draft and UDFA classes, because I keep seeing those RKG qualities when these guys get talked about. Hard workers. Team captains. Plays through the whistle. High motor. All combined with some impressive measurables and on field credentials.
We have all talked about the RKG idea, usually with approval here. But today I saw something that made me stop and think for a moment. And I realized that JG5000 may not just be interested in having RKGs on the field. I think he is just as interested in getting them on the sidelines to coach and train these players.
What prompted this train of thought, after the jump.
Let me go over a couple of things that prompted these thoughts. One of the things that makes any organization function well is to have a consistent and coherent way of doing business. Like many of you, I have dealt and been a part of organizations that did this well, and organizations that didn't. The ones that did could usually handle adversity well and take advantage of change and opportunity. The ones that didn't would suffer internal dissension, strife, and dysfunction. When the different people involved share a common vision and approach, they are nearly unstoppable. But when some are not on board with what the organization is trying to do or how it goes about it, chaos and failure are usually soon to follow.
I don't think Jason Garrett had the staff he wanted in 2011. Hudson Houck was a very good offensive line coach, but he had an apparent preference for older, veteran players. JG was pretty clearly looking to go with youth on the line, players that the team could do more molding into what he wanted and the team needed. Garrett also believes in constantly working with the younger roster members to make them better, which just did not seem to be Hudson's style. For 2012, he was able to hire Bill Callahan to replace Houck, giving him a man with a reputation for doing just what JG wants.
The other coach I think he, and Rob Ryan, for that matter, had problems with was Dave Campo, the secondary coach. Ryan uses an attacking defensive scheme, and one of the things he needs is defensive backs that can jam the receiver to throw them off their routes, and then stick with them and disrupt the passes that come their way. Campo seemed to go another direction, having the DBs play off the line. This may have been a reflection of the talent issues the team had, but it certainly didn't work very well. There also seemed to be a real issue with the way the players tracked the ball. Or perhaps that should be failed to track the ball. Time and again, it seemed that the defender would never look back for the ball, which does make breaking up or intercepting a pass considerably more difficult.
In 2012, exit Dave Campo, and enter Jerome Henderson, a coach that it is believed Rob Ryan wanted last year, but that for various reasons he could not get until 2012. In the just concluded rookie minicamp (AKA, at least to me, as Camp RKG), several of the new players made an impression on the media that covered it. And so did Henderson.
New secondary coach Jerome Henderson stood out.
He wore cleats, he was demonstrative, and he came off the field brimming with enthusiasm to reporters.
The article from the Ft. Worth Star Telegram talks about his eagerness to work with players and his hands on approach.
To that end, the 42-year-old coach wore cleats and ran around showing exactly the technique he wanted. "I do, just because some times, when I'm trying to show something in a drill and I'm trying to move and you have tennis shoes on, I just can't move or can't react like I want to help them," he said. "Like right now, as I get going, hopefully I'll move around a lot more, and I'll work one-on-one with guys because I know what an NFL corner feels like when he jams you. I know how strong he is, and I know his punch. So I want to feel that, so I can correct it one-on-one and I'm not looking at it saying, ‘Well, OK, that looked like a good punch.' It's a good punch because my chest hurts. I know what it feels like."
You can call me a homer, but how do you not get fired up about a coach who goes head to head with his own players to feel how much it hurts to get jammed in the chest, so he can teach them to make it hurt better?
That's teaching, coaching, and leadership by example all rolled into one. Just reading that makes me want to go run into somebody. Preferably someone wearing a Giants jersey, but any other NFL team will do.
But there is much else to like about his approach. One thing he and everyone else seems to be doing is not counting any All Pro selections before they are made.
So, Henderson was asked: Is this the best secondary, on paper, he's worked with?
"You know, on paper, you look at things on paper and you may say it is," he said. "But again, we don't play football on paper. We play out there on Sundays. It'll be the most talented if we play that way. Whether we will or not, we've got a lot of work."
This echoes things said by other coaches, like the remarks made by receivers coach Jimmy Robinson in the related article, written by KD, that I pointed too above the jump. Speaking about the outlook for Dez Bryant, the team's top pick in 2010, he said:
"He's doing great. Having a good offseason," Robinson said. "Working really hard and getting better out there every day. Again, that's got to carry over to the next phase, to the OTAs and training camp and then regular season, game day."
Or, as KD succinctly put it:
Good news, but did you hear the caveat Robinson included? He doesn't want Dez resting or thinking he's got it.
Nobody is handing anybody anything, not even Morris Claiborne, the best defensive player from the 2012 draft. There is abundant hope for Pick 6, but he is not the automatic starter. He has to prove he is better than Mike Jenkins, or anyone else the team has to compete with him for that matter. Jason Garrett has repeatedly talked about having competition up and down the roster, and I think we will see it. Especially in those areas, like the secondary and the offensive line, where things were noticeably less than satisfactory last year. I think that is one thing that is going to motivate the rookies in camp. They all see that they have a chance to earn that Star.
Of course, I do have a drinking problem involving Kool-Aid. But the more I hear about the Cowboys and what they are doing, the happier I am. The coaching staff looks to be very much on the same page, and the message is one I believe will bear fruit, sooner rather than later. I like the way they approach things. Or, to let Coach Henderson have the last word:
"The mentality we're going to try to build is that we fight; we scratch, and we claw, no matter what the situation," he said. "It may not be pretty all the time, and it's not going to be perfect. But the one thing you know - and this is our expectation, and this is what we've been talking about - is this group will play smart, and they will compete, down in and down out."