Is it too quiet at Valley Ranch? Or are things really going so well, so far?
I have to admit, this was a thought that was spurred by an excellent article by Calvin Watkins. Watkins had five points he made, in a bit of a space filler for the Memorial Day weekend, and I found myself agreeing with almost every word he wrote. He had good things to say about the recent draft history of Dallas and other good comments. But what got the old wheels to turning for me was his opening subject.
Mike Jenkins is playing with the Oakland Raiders now. But last season he was the drama the Cowboys didn't need last year. Jenkins, recovering from shoulder surgery, staged a mini-protest by refusing to showup to the organized team activities.
He goes on to state that there is pretty much a total absence of true drama for the Cowboys this year, at least so far. I remember how the Jenkins story played out, to be followed by the remedial running story when camp kicked off. And the previous year was even more hectic with the lockout coming to an end and then the surprise cuts of veterans like Roy Williams and Marc Colombo to begin the camp, as the team not only had to adjust to a new head coach and drastically revamped coaching staff, but also had to sort out the new CBA.
Now, even though the changes among the Cowboys' coaches are almost as significant as they were in Garrett's first full season, things seem, well, placid. Well organized. Almost boring.
And when you are in OTAs, boring is good. Very, very good.
It means that the team is focused strictly on learning plays and assignments, and the staff is evaluating new players. In other words, it is business as, well, it should be, but is often not in the world of the NFL.
Dallas is certainly a franchise that sees more than its share of distractions. The owner, GM and pretty much full time spokesman, Jerry Jones, is himself the source of more confusion than all the other owners put together. But this year, even that seems less a problem. Perhaps it is because the "controversies" that are presented have so far just been rehashes of old stuff, like the Garrett hot seat and the playcalling mess. Most have already come to some kind of conclusion, mostly that these issues are not as big as some would like them to be, and moved on.
I think it is also interesting that one thing that could have been a major controversy this year, the switch to the 4-3, has been so completely bought into by almost everyone. That seems to be a testimony to Monte Kiffin, who amazingly seems to have the media eating right out of his hand. His reputation and air of expertise seems to have almost all questions answered. I think the addition of Rod Marinelli to the staff was also important in convincing even the most jaded that these guys know what they are doing. And there does seem to be an air of confidence coming from the entire defense. Under Rob Ryan, there was a lot of swagger, but the product on the field could not often live up to it. Now, things just seem to be falling into place.
There are not all that many unknowns this year. Most of the starters seem pretty well established, with one safety, one linebacker, a guard or two, right tackle, and a second tight end for the 12 formation being about all that needs to be determined, and the team has some ideas already on who they think is going to work out for most of those jobs. The new players, for the most part, are all about depth at this point. This is a much more settled situation than has been the case the past couple of years, when many jobs were unsettled and presumed starters had weaker grips on the job. That helps keep thing on a steady course and obviously makes the job a bit simpler for the coaches. Consider how our NFC East rivals are doing. The Philadelphia Eagles have a new coach, new system, and don't know who the starting quarterback is, The Washington Redskins don't know for sure if the starting quarterback is really going to be ready to start the season. And the New York Giants don't know for sure who their quarterback is going to be throwing to, with a couple of star receivers doing the semi-holdout thing.
Mostly, though, I think this may be Jason Garrett finding his stride with two and a half seasons as head coach under his belt, and with Jerry Jones really feeling good about things, after the disappointment of not making the playoffs again wore off. The OTAs just seem to be conforming to the Garrett ideal: Controlled, organized, and productive. It is not as exciting, and may not provide as many easy stories to write, but it does feel good right now. There certainly are plenty of things that can still happen, but for right now, I am going to sit back and enjoy as much boredom as I can. Let the drama play out somewhere else for a change.
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