Ah, August. The beaches are full of families trying to beat the heat. The backyard grills are laden with steaks, burgers and dogs. The cold beers just seem a little bit colder and taste a little bit more refreshing than normal. School will soon be back in session and the neighborhood kids treasure every last day of play and every remaining evening without homework. Yes, August is a time to soak up the last bit of Summer sun and just relax.
That is, of course, unless you're a professional football player. Because in the NFL, August means one thing and one thing only - FOOTBALL IS COMING.
For several years now, I've penned a little piece on the upcoming season for our beloved Dallas Cowboys in what has become known as the "The Season Of" series. What better opportunity for my first fanpost since the site overhaul? For those relative newbies, here are some links to catch you up on prior years in case you need a cure for your insomnia.
As it is every year during training camp, I like to look back upon all of the things that have taken place since our last football game of the past year. Clearly, this was not an off-season of status quo. The biggest bombshell was the dismissal of Rob Ryan and subsequent hiring of Monte Kiffin as his replacement. The move was the harbinger of a defensive scheme change that would return the Cowboys to their once proud 4-3 alignment and away from a 3-4 that never seemed able to generate the kind of suffocating pressure that was promised nor the requisite number of takeaways needed to change the team's fortunes.
In addition, there were changes on the offensive side of the ball as well. Dallas made Bill Callahan the primary play caller even though the playbook would largely be the one that Jason Garrett built while serving as the Offensive Coordinator under Wade Phillips. What we don't yet know is what kinds of wrinkles, and to what extent, Callahan will insert into the offensive game plan. The move to Callahan as THE guy running the offensive show suggests some degree of change in terms of what we'll see out of the offense on game day. However, some people argue that the shift in duties is more a superficial change and not indicative of anything meaningful in terms of what we'll see on the field.
Finally on the coaching front, after just 22 days on the job in largely the same position at Auburn university, Rich Bisaccia replaced Joe DeCamillis as Special Teams coordinator. Bisaccia had successful stints in Tampa Bay and San Diego before agreeing to come work for Coach Garrett.
But there was player movement too. Former 1st round picks from 2008, Felix Jones and Mike Jenkins were allowed to leave Dallas without much fanfare as neither ever lived up to the expectations that came with their high draft positions. The same could be said for 2005 first rounder, Marcus Spears. Later, after moving around the draft a bit and shying away from a free-falling Sharrif Floyd, Dallas settled on Travis Frederick, Center from Wisconsin with their first round draft choice. That, in and of itself, was noteworthy because it marked the second time in the Jerry Jones era that a top pick was spent on offensive lineman (the other being Tyron Smith). Dallas signed Will Allen in Free Agency as a stopgap for the always interesting safety position and also gave Tony Romo a big-money extension that virtually guarantees that he will finish his career a Dallas Cowboy.
Like all Augusts, off-season changes mean that hope springs eternal once again as we look at this iteration of the Dallas Cowboys. But our charge here goes well beyond pointing out the year-to-year changes on this team. No, we must consider what the 2013 season will be remembered for once all is said and done. Where will Dallas' real 2013 back story come from?
Let's examine some possibilities;
2013 could be the Season of Dez. The mercurial Wide Receiver has done nothing but impress the fans and pundits alike with his displays of athleticism and understanding of the entire route tree during the training camp and preseason. Clearly, he's been a standout on the field and a non-issue off of it. The pairing of those things suggests that Bryant could elevate himself into the rare air that is the truly elite group of game-breaking receivers in the NFL like Calvin Johnson, Andre Johnson and Brandon Marshall. Alas, I don't think we're at a point where even a 120-catch, 1500-yard season from Bryant would turn out to be THE headline for 2013 when all is said and done.
Maybe this is the season of the Dallas-2. Monte Kiffin, despite his advanced years, is said to be as energetic and involved as he was when he led the Tampa Bay Buccaneers defense to the pinnacle of the NFL. Maybe it's this new schematic shift, which seeks to solve some of Dallas' defensive woes by simplifying player responsibilities and promises gobs and gobs of turnovers (Monte never had cover corners like these in TB), that will be the story of 2013. Then again, Dallas has questions about health and depth along the defensive line and the likelihood of them storming out of the gate in a transition year, while desired by one and all, isn't all that safe a bet. Better to shelve that one for consideration in 2014.
Could 2013 be the year of Wild Bill (Callahan, that is)? People who have complained about Dallas' play calling won't have Jason Garrett to kick around anymore. The days of endless lamentations about Dallas' predictability on offense and unwillingness to run the ball may be over. That alone may make Romo and his cohorts much more effective because the last time Dallas was able to run the ball with aplomb was in 2007 when they went 13-3. Unfortunately for some of you, I'm not willing to pin all of Dallas' offensive woes, including their inability to reach the upper echelons of scoring, solely on Coach Garrett. Nope, this one's a wait and see.
Then what mark WILL Dallas' 2013 campaign leave on us?
When Jason Garrett took over this football team from Wade Phillips, he talked in almost ethereal terms about the things that comprise winning organizations. He's a good judge of such things since he had the privilege of experiencing, firsthand, the building of one of the greatest dynasties in the history of the NFL. That, of course, was the Dallas Cowboys of the 1990's. One can only speculate as to what goes through the Ivy leaguer's mind when he thinks about what HIS endgame looks like. Garrett has had to shake the very foundations of this team ranging from its draft strategies to its coaching and player development philosophies to the way everyone in the organization approaches the game. He has overhauled its practice habits and put a completely different kind of focus on mental and physical preparation.
But beyond all of that, he has devoted an inordinate amount of time and energy to the endeavor of building a better brand of Dallas Cowboy. He calls it being the "Right Kind of Guy". It has been a concept that hasn't been easy to wrap our heads around because Garrett is, much like Thurgood Marshall, probably the only one who knows what IT is when he sees it. However, here's an excerpt which I thought was as explanatory as he could be;
"The right kind of guy, to us, is someone who loves to play football, who is very passionate about it, willing to work hard at it, willing to be part of a team, willing to be part of something that is maybe greater than himself. We want a guy who has an ego. Egos are important. But ego in the context of what we're trying to accomplish as a team. Guys who are willing to work, are great teammates - there's always going to be a place for those guys."
Now while that all sounds well and good, let's be clear, this is no sure thing. Garrett is betting the farm on the notion of not chasing after the higher-profile, more boastful player acquisitions that might create fanfare and positive PR. Instead, he has chosen a much more difficult path. He has sought out coaches and players who believe in the idea of putting ‘cause above self'. His goal of building a locker room comprised of a coaching staff and players who contribute to and share a sense of oneness, around a common goal, is something that Dallas has not seen in the post-Jimmy era. Clearly, the obvious downside to this approach is that the Cowboys might miss out on some of the game's more dynamic talents. But the upside, which offers something much more majestic in nature, is that he might just create a kind of sea-change in the organization that brings with it a longer-term kind of success - one that leads to a Super Bowl title.
It is readily apparent that this is Garrett's defining moment. This is his Gettysburg, his Midway, his "I-Have-A-Dream". We live in an era where other organizations are crumbling at their very foundations because of the heinous acts committed by their players and coaches. But it is Jason Garrett who has, from Day 1, preached a kind of professionalism and almost spiritual approach from his charges that is, all at once, uncommon, laudable and very risky.
True to his convictions, he has culled the roster of its malcontents and filled out his team with people who see the football world through the same lens as he does. He has put personal and professional emphasis on locker room leadership. He has spoken time and time again about the importance of individual as well as team accountability. He has imbued this group with a sense of purpose that is reminiscent of, dare we say, Augusts past on the campus of St. Edwards University in Austin where his mentor, Jimmy Johnson, once galvanized a young team's resolve to become one of the best, if not the best, ever.
As is usually the case with these works, it was right in front of my nose.
How could 2013 be anything other than the ultimate litmus test for this ‘central theme' that Garrett has espoused the virtues of since the very first day he took the reins of this team? Clearly, this is where the rubber of Garrett's core beliefs hits the road of NFL reality. This is where we can finally make sense of the not-so-tangible idea of the Right Kind of Guy and the VERY tangible notion of whether that kind of guy can produce the...Right Kind of Results. When 2013 is done, we will all be able to step back and say to ourselves, and our fellow Cowboys brethren, that this was where we found out if Garrett's "all-in" bet paid off. We'll know that this was the time when we found out if the line drawn in the proverbial sand by Dallas' leader was the right line. We'll finally know if Garrett's guys are the Right Kind of Guys to propel our Cowboys to the next level and finally, erase the bad memories of the last fifteen plus years by putting us on a path toward a championship.
So, I say to you, raise your glasses and join me in a toast.
To the 2013 Dallas Cowboys and The Season of the RKG!