For the first time since the Monday following the week 17 loss at Washington, Jason Garrett met with reporters at Valley Ranch. As he made clear at the top of the 53 minute session, the ostensible purpose of the presser was to introduce the new coaching staff, which, with the recent addition of Gary Brown as running back coach, is now complete. Indeed, Garrett spent a good deal of air time praising the new coaches, all of whom received high marks as teachers. In doing so, however, he adopted a rhetorical stance that suggested he has been listening to the media's account of the Cowboys offseason moves. Let's look at the various memes and how Garrett responded.
Playcalling: The takeaway here is twofold: First, the team has been discussing whether or not he should be the playcaller ever since he took over as head coach in the middle of the 2010 season. By pointing this out, Garrett indirectly addressed rumors that he was being stripped of these duties in response to the events of the 2012 campaign (In his opening remarks, Garrett did make sure to mention how successful the Cowboys offense has been during his tenure as play caller). Second, they have not yet decided who will call plays - or at least aren't prepared to share that information. While it certainly seems as if Bill Callahan will have increased responsibility in the game-planning/ playcalling (Garrett mentioned this when introducing new assistant O-line coach Frank Pollack), it remains unclear exactly who will do what.
New Coaches: Garrett stated that he had long-standing connections to all the coaches except Brown. As a backup quarterback for Tampa Bay in 2004, he noted, he had an opportunity, as the scout team quarterback, to watch Monte Kiffin, Rod Marinelli and Rich Bisaccia up close. He's known new receivers coach Derek Dooley since the early 90s, when Garrett was in Dallas and Dooley was at SMU (and of course they were on the same staff in Miami in 2005-06). He also praised new tight ends coach Wes Phillips as his "right hand man" when he functioned as offensive quality control coach in 2009-10. Garrett also took time to single out each of them as an excellent teacher.
What he wouldn't divulge was why any of the departed coaches are no longer in Dallas. He praised every former coach except Brian Baker (probably an oversight), but deflected any line of questioning directed at whether or not letting them go was a decision he originated. Instead, he stressed that every development was the result of "collective decisions."
The Defensive Scheme Shift: In his initial discussion, Garrett mentioned what we have already heard form him: that the team wanted a philosophical shift. He later offered a bit of clarification when he noted that the change the team was making is designed to address the realities of the NFL in 2013. What does that mean? With restrictions on the amount of practices teams can conduct and the number of injures they are likely to have, Garrett said, the team needs philosophical systems in place that allow players to learn and to absorb injuries. The suggestion was that Ryan's system was to complex to learn, both in the limited number of practices sanctioned by the new CBA and by the new players who will inevitably need to step into the lineup when injuries occur.
More on the defense: Although he didn't mention Ryan specifically, Garrett did point out that the one area in which Dallas' defenses of recent vintage has done consistently poorly was to generate takeaways. He then pointed out the strong correlation between takeaways and points, noting that, while some turnovers prevent the opposition from scoring, others either set up the offense for an easy score or result in a defensive score. For years now, we've been cursing the discrepancy between the Cowboys ability to generate yards and their inability to generate points. Today Garrett seemed to suggest that the key factor here was turnovers (citing Marinelli's Bears, who had 44 takeaways last season, as the prime example).
Some offensive thoughts: When talking about the offense, Garrett was unusually frank about what they need to improve upon. Usually, we are greeted with a generic "we have to get better running the ball; we have to get better passing the ball; we have to get better scoring..." This afternoon, he zeroed in on three areas of improvement: running, scoring, and protecting the ball. I certainly would agree that these need to the three main offseason focal points.The question is: what relationship, if any, is there between these need areas and the decision to shift game-planning and playcalling responsibilities?
Relationship with Jerry: Garrett was pressed by reporters to articulate whether, and in what ways this offseason was different due to Jerry's remarks that he was going to make things "uncomfortable" at the Ranch. As I mentioned previously, Garrett maintained that they have always made decisions collectively, and stressed that nothing has changed in that regard. Indeed, when asked whether this offseason was different than any other, Garrett replied that it was exactly the same.
- Former tight ends coach John Garrett wasn't going to get the opportunity to call plays in Dallas, so they decided it was best for him to go someplace where he can have that chance.
- The coaching staff has only been together since Monday, and have spent their first two days together evaluating the team's personnel in preparation for free agency and the draft.
- In considering a switch to a 4-3 defense, a concern was the Cowboys personnel, which was drafted for a 3-4. But after some study, they concluded that the guys they have are good fits for a 4-3, so they pulled the trigger.
- Along those lines: in terms of his fit in a 4-3, Anthony Spencer is seen as a defensive end as opposed to a "Sam" linebacker.