Controlling the line of scrimmage. Where strength and conditioning training pays off.
I'm not a big fan of "I told you so."
Well, unless I'm right, of course.
From the day Jason Garrett hired Mike Woicik to come back to the Dallas Cowboys as the strength and conditioning coach, I have supported the position that his contributions would pay big dividends for the team down the line, and after the ignomious end of the 2011 season, I put that into a post about what the team needed to do with its veterans in the offseason.
If there is one prediction that I feel safe making, it is that the players are going to be stronger and have more endurance after Mike has a few months to work with them.
Just to review, in 2011 we saw a team that seemed to run out of gas as the clock ran down. There has been a good deal of argument as to how much difference Woicik could make. Without going over all that ground again, I will just reiterate that I thought a full offseason under his direction would lead to immediate improvement.
Against the New York Giants, I believe we have the evidence that it did. It looked to me that the Giants were clearly fading, while the Cowboys were keeping the pressure up, on both sides of the ball. And I was not the only one who saw that. In his video at NFL.com naming the top 5 NFL running backs, based on the first week, LaDainian Tomlinson not only picked a certain DeMarco Murray as his number 1, he mentioned how Murray and the Cowboys' offense wore the Giants down.
So how did Woicik do this?
You know what to do next: Follow after the jump.
This is not a topic that gets a great deal of coverage, but Rowan Kavner of DallasCowboys.com did an article on the program for Star Magazine. He points out that the program is about much more than just building muscle and improving endurance.
It's during that time in the offseason when players' self-discipline is the primary motivating factor that Woicik rewards those who go beyond the call of duty. With three Super Bowl rings from two different teams, he knows his approach works.
And with nearly 100 percent offseason attendance this year, the Cowboys players know it does, too.
Once upon a time, there were cash awards (up to $2,000) to the players who stood out in the program, but under all the new rules and salary cap stuff, that is no longer possible. Instead, the players have to settle for some recognition that probably sounds oddly familiar to many out there.
Sean Lee, DeMarcus Ware,
Jason Witten, Gerald Sensabaugh, Tony Romo, Miles Austin, Jason Hatcher, Doug Free and Danny McCray, all winners of Woicik's program this year, received a parking spot at Valley Ranch, a poster in their honor and a weight room photo for demonstrating the best attendance, work ethic, leadership, improvement and performance in the offseason.
That is an interesting list. First off, if you notice towards the end of that quote, it mentions that word that stirs up so much passion when used concerning the Cowboys: Leadership.
If I haven't mentioned it, I am sick and tired of the old story that there are no leaders on the Dallas Cowboys. And I am holding out some faint hope that they may finally drive a stake through the heart of that myth this season.
And look again at those names. Remember, this is a voluntary program. No one was forced to attend. There were no penalties if you didn't. You went because you wanted to get better, and probably because you did not want to let down your teammates. Especially those leading the way.
So what does it say when many of the awards for best participants in the offseason conditioning program go to some of the biggest stars on the team?
Well, that may have something to do with the support this gets from one Jason Garrett. He has high expectations for everyone.
The award winners paced the drills. They arrived early to workouts. But more than anything, Garrett describes them as leaders.
"A lot of them are the marquee players that everybody knows," Garrett says. "Some of them are a little less established, but they're the guys that are doing things the right way. When you have that throughout your team, that's a pretty good thing."
Have you noticed that, no matter how you look at the Cowboys now, things like "right way" just keep coming up, especially when you start talking to Garrett?
A strength and conditioning program is an end unto itself in the NFL, but under Garrett, it also is part of a bigger picture. It has to do with building teamwork as well as muscle. It is about doing what you need to do all the time. About preparing constantly, not just showing up and expecting your contributions to be acceptable. It is about demanding just as much from the face of your franchise as from every rookie and backup free agent.
It started to pay off against the Giants. And in ways most would not have anticipated.
If nothing else, Woicik's offseason program provides a motivational benefit and incentive to bringing the right attitude, working hard and building companionship while preparing for a new season.
Woicik's award program worked prior to the Cowboys' most recent Super Bowl season 17 years ago. A new crop of Cowboys believe it can work again.
"We had a great offseason, and I give Coach Woicik and his staff a lot of credit," Witten says. "Hopefully, it'll pay off for us. I think it did."
Kool Aid. Tastes great.