I'm working on a little project for Dave, the man who heads up BTB and who deserves most of the credit for this site being what it is. It involves doing a review of the Dallas Cowboys coaching staff. As happens with almost everything I encounter as I bumble my way through life, it got me to thinking. Dave sets the tone and takes care of a lot of stuff that would drive me to distraction, but the most important thing I think he has done is put together the staff. For a bunch of guys I have never met face to face, this is a group that I thoroughly enjoy working with, and one that fits together very well. We have different strengths, and it lets us provide the readers with a variety of Cowboys coverage that seems to be very appealing to our audience.
But all are not created equal. While rabble, Archie, Coty and I all pitch in with all the verve we can muster, we know how much a couple of guys called KD and OCC bring to the table. They are the two key assistants, if you will, on Dave's staff. KD, in addition to carrying his share of the front page load, is our multimedia wizard, doing podcasts, SBN videos, and running the BTB Twitter and Facebook accounts. And OCC is a legend in his own time. On a regular basis, he leaves us with jaws hanging at his nearly superhuman expertise and productivity. You have no idea how much of what you see on the front page is augmented and improved by things OCC has taught the rest of us.
Now, having paid a bit of very sincere praise to my friends, the point is that Dave could not run one of the best websites anywhere (in my opinion, anyway) without those two assistant editors. And looking at the Dallas coaching staff, it is obviously the same, only on a much higher order of magnitude. Now, while I cannot say whether KD or OCC is more crucial to us (and I don't just mean that to not offend, I really can't decide), I am willing to try and figure out which one of Jason Garrett's assistants is going to be most important to him and the success of the Cowboys in 2012.
A look at the likely suspects after the jump.
Jason Garrett has done a remarkable job of creating a new culture while bringing back some of the elements that made the Cowboys great in both the 1970s and the 1990s. But the important thing is going to be if his frequently cited process can turn the new attitude and way of doing things into success on the field. Here is my list of some of the key assistants in getting there, and which one I think is the most crucial this year.
Rob Ryan You cannot have this discussion without talking about the Big Robowski. Jason Garrett is clearly on top of the offensive game, but just as he has put his stamp all across the organization, Ryan has clearly infused the defense with a lot of his own personality and approach. This is where I got an old signature line of my own: Garrett is in charge of imposing the order of his offense on the other team, executing the plays to move the ball into the opponent's end zone, while Ryan strives to bring chaos to the field, disrupting what the other team is trying to do, and confusing their quarterback and coaching staff. He had a rough debut season. His scheme needed more time to teach and coach than he was afforded by the lockout, and his cupboard of defensive players was not nearly as well stocked as many, including him, thought it was before the season started. Well, he got the bulk of the groceries in the 2012 draft, as well as the biggest free agent signing, plus the team fixed a couple of issues he had with his own part of the coaching staff by replacing Dave Campo and Brett Maxie with Jerome Henderson and Joe Baker. Campo always seemed to be coaching his defensive backs at cross purposes with Ryan's defensive concept. Instead of the aggressive press coverage Ryan wants, Campo seemed to want to keep the d backs off the line. Instead of locating and attacking the ball, Campo had his players focused on the receiver. Perhaps that was affected by the limitations of some of the players, but it still seemed counterproductive. Now Ryan has some assistants that will give him what he needs, players that can fit the scheme, and a full offseason to work with. I am one who expects a much more effective and salty defense.
Jerome Henderson I mention him not just because of how he affects Ryan's scheme, but because of the investment the Cowboys made in cornerbacks this year. The team targeted and signed Brandon Carr to provide a significant upgrade there, and then it made the first round move to pick 6 and grabbed Morris Claiborne. Henderson is now responsible for utilizing and integrating the two most significant acquisitions this year, and using them along with the other pieces like Brodney Pool and Matt Johnson to directly improve the pass coverage and indirectly aid the pass rush. He was given the biggest guns the team could get this year, and he is going to need to use them with accuracy and to deliver some big time firepower. (Sorry about the gun analogy. No, not really.)
Mike Woicik Garrett made Woicik one of his prime targets in rebuilding the coaching staff. He believed that the six time Super Bowl coach would play a crucial role in making the team stronger and more durable, both in terms of injuries during the season and in gutting it out in the fourth quarter. And then that lovely little interlude known as the lockout came, and essentially eliminated Woicik's first offseason, which is the time of year he does his most important work. Now he, like Ryan, has a chance to come in and do what he was signed to do, which is mold and shape the bodies of the players to better do their jobs. Given the many fourth quarter swoons from last year, that could be invaluable.
Those are three key assistants who have, I think, bigger responsibilities in making the Cowboys successful than most of the others. But, from my point of view, none of them are the key assistant. No, there is one other member of the staff that has the biggest responsibility:
Bill Callahan In the end, and the beginning and especially the middle, it is all going to come down to the offensive line. The team has done a lot to fix the defensive issues that were so glaring last year. But even more than the defense, the offensive line, particularly the guards and center, were the major issue for the team last year. And there, all the team did was sign free agents Nate Livings and Mackenzy Bernadeau, two serviceable but not exactly stellar guards, and pick up UDFA Ronald Leary, a possible steal, but also a bit of a risk due to the knee issues that caused him to not be drafted. They eschewed using a single draft pick to upgrade the offensive line. Instead, they are going with the players that they had last year and the not overly impressive additions listed above. This is what the team is depending on to open some more holes to run through, to keep the pocket clean for the pass routes to develop, and most importantly, to keep Tony Romo healthy.
That says to me that Jason Garrett has tremendous faith in Callahan's ability to do with the Dallas offensive line what he did with Nick Mangold, Alan Faneca, D'Brickashaw Ferguson, and the rest of the New York Jets O line while he was there. In assembling the 2012 edition of the team, Garrett was faced with limited resources, just as every team is. In Dallas' case, it was the space under the salary cap (minus the John Mara inspired penalty, of course) and the eight draft picks the team had. Those can only go so far and choices had to be made. I think Garrett, along with Jerry and Stephen Jones, did a very good job getting a tremendous amount of value out of what they had. The true evaluation on that will come in a few years, of course, but looking at it right now, I don't think they could have done a great deal better with what they had to use in the way of free agent money and picks. But they had to pay an opportunity cost in choosing not to go after more offensive line help. That puts a load on Bill Callahan's shoulders. If he cannot improve the blocking performance and most importantly keep Romo upright, then all the other improvements may be for naught. In this, he does get his own assist from Woicik, but be assured, it still is Callahan's responsibility to get better play out of his charges. If he can pull it off, then Jason Garrett and the Jones family will look like geniuses. If not, then slings and arrows will fly with abandon. It is a gamble, and quite frankly, we really don't know how strong a hand the Cowboys are holding here.
Like I said, it all comes down, once again, to the offensive line.