Dallas Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett is looking for some hustle to build a champion.
When I started this whole blogging about the Dallas Cowboys thing a little over a year ago, I talked a lot about how Jason Garrett was bringing a new approach to things. That was back in the days of the Great Suckitude (aka the lockout). Among of the things that JG brought in was his now famous (or infamous) process, how things have to build one piece at a time. That implies that the Cowboys are not a static organization, but one that will be growing and evolving.
So far, in the nascent days of training camp, the one thing that has jumped out at me is the new attitude. There is a harder edge to the team, a much more focused drive. It starts at the very top and runs down to all the players, rookie and established star alike.
And I am loving it.
Even a rather over-the-top comment by Jerry Jones about how the Cowboys will "beat the Giants' ass" strikes me as a good thing. I like the fire. Yes, it will undoubtedly be bulletin board material, but still, it shows a little grittiness and a bit of the anger I am sure the entire team feels over how last season played out. Maybe it could have been stated a little more adroitly (of course, artful expression has never been JJ's long suit), but it does reflect a certain faith in this team on the part of the owner. He expects it to happen. I like that.
However, that is just an owner with a penchant for verbosity acting like himself. The real things that show the new attitude are coming from the coaches and players. You know, the people who will have to get this done on the field.
What I'm seeing from the guys who count after the jump.
One of the most low key superstars in the NFL is tight end Jason Witten. Even his nickname, the Senator, is reflective of a measured, controlled man. In that light, consider this comment made when talking about his career so far:
"It goes fast and I will be damned if I let this opportunity slip and not come away with a championship," Witten said.
Whoa. That's like John Wayne or Chuck Norris telling that to some lowlife in a movie. You just get the feeling that somebody is about to get smacked right in the mouth. And with Witten, you know he is going to back it up with some action. Bryan Broaddus reports that he is working hard on his blocking skills. When your all-everything tight end, with an almost certain invitation to Canton, Ohio coming, is putting in noticeable work on being a better blocker, you know he is dead serious about making some things happen.
In the Auping interview I quoted above, Witten also talks about how the team is working on being able to finish games. That is why the practices are so up-tempo, and finish off with wind sprints. This is a focus Jason Garrett clearly has for 2012, and it has stood out. Rabblerousr already gave an excellent summary of it in his optimistic post earlier, and I could not agree more. The team has a sense of urgency about it, in every sense of the word this year. Whether it is getting up to speed in play execution or talking about closing windows, the Dallas Cowboys are working hard to get it done.
The emphasis here is on work, not the talk. Although there will always be a lot of loose cannon-type remarks when Jerry Jones is the owner, the rest of the team is really putting the emphasis on walking the walk. Even the often loquacious and very colorful Rob Ryan has turned over a new leaf. He is not making any in-your-face remarks, which have become the prerogative of Jerry Jones. He is just dead set on making this the best defense possible. His message has gotten through to his defensive charges, including the best of them.
"Defensively, I feel like it's going to be good," outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware said. "We're going to be a defense to be reckoned with this year. It's put up or shut up, that's what it is. Are we gonna do it or not? Are you gonna step up to the plate? It's all the time."
The competition is up and down the roster. Although the top stars are obviously safe, it is because they are simply so good, not because of reputation or resume. And one of the most talked about developments of the camp, the failure of Felix Jones, Brodney Pool, and Andre Holmes to pass the conditioning test, was one more way Jason Garrett has hammered home the message. This is all about winning football games.
It later came out that two of what became known around camp as the Big Three, Pool and Holmes, were working on longer distance running. That's great for endurance, and in Pool's case, helped him drop some weight he had added. But it doesn't help with the unique requirements of football, where your efforts consist of small bursts of all-out exertion. The conditioning test used by the Cowboys, a series of sprints tailored to the size of the players involved, measures if the players are in that kind of shape. It is not an NFL requirement, although all teams have some version of it, just something the Cowboys use to gauge how their personnel are doing. And when the three players didn't pass it, they got sent to remedial running (a great Garrettism). They were not going out to practice until they met the standards the team had set. It was get with the program, or get out of the way. It doesn't matter who you are, or how embarrassing this might all be. Jason Garrett is in the house, and he is firmly in charge.
It continues. On the field on Day 3 of camp, Pick 6 Morris Claiborne seeks out Dez Bryant to go up against the best in drills. Bill Callahan is working constantly with his offensive linemen, fighting the injury issues that have limited his options. And from player after player, you hear a seriousness in their approach. This team doesn't care about how talented anyone says they are. Or aren't. The overall impression you get is that this is all about the games. Playing them to the best of their ability, and winning more than they did last year.
It is a feeling I get following what is going on. The intensity is cranked up. The demeanor is serious and businesslike. Nobody expects to get anything handed to them. Any sense of entitlement was clearly destroyed last season. Now, they are doing this the old fashioned way: They are earning it.
Rabble has optimism. I have a good feeling. Now to see if it translates to field.