I was literally on the phone with a fellow fan (my dad), trying to get my head around the signing this morning when all of a sudden it was reality no longer. Honestly, the question that bugged me more than any other was looking at the image of Mike Garafalo's tweet, time stamped "6:15 am" and wondering "who the hell calls at 6:15am to get a statement?" Apparently the ESPN.com computers are not set to EST, because it was actually 8:15 when the "just got off the phone" tweet went out. One mystery solved, but what are we, as cowboys fans to make of this last 24 hrs?
Rather than trying to get inside Brandon Moore's head or as some have (correctly, IMO) suggested, his marriage; I think what the cowboy fan needs to do is look at what Garrett must be thinking. Now, there are four principal players in this drama and I think starting with the facts about them will lead us to the correct end.
- Jason Garrett -- While Garrett is likely less afraid to throw youngsters into the mix than many other coaches (as evidenced by 2011), he is certainly one to respect a veteran's steadiness and knowledge of the game (as evidenced by guys like Montrae Holland and Derrick Dockery, as well as the fact that the hobbled Nate Livings was at the top of the recently released Depth Chart). That having been said, his insistence on the RKG mantra and "competition at every level" in practice have proven to be more than just talk, as evidenced by the deep and widespread buy-in from the players across the team. The idea that no job is secure clearly has taken hold. Guys like Sean Lee and Demarcus Ware aren't just giving lip service to earning their jobs, but practicing like it, by all accounts. This has resulted in a renaissance of unheralded and even disrespected players making all kinds of strides: players like Selvie, Sims, Dunbar, Tanner, and our next suspect-- David Arkin.
- David Arkin -- written off by some before *last* year's training camp, Arkin is a project who has been putting time in to develop an NFL-level game. By the accounts of those who are watching (Broaddus, Sturm, Rafael Vela, Birddog, Coty Saxman, KD Drummond, and first-time fanposter Del1sle (awesome job on those last three, BTW) he is almost, but not quite, there. My personal summary of their remarks is that he is physically about as good as he's going to get, and that it's enough if he plays with good technique. From here then, it's about him getting the reps and experience to be relied upon to do that. His somewhat finesse-oriented game and teamwork with Doug Free reminded me of former RG Kyle Kosier and when I opined that this might be what Arkin grows into, Broaddus retweeted my inquiry with "there ya' go" tacked on to the end.
- Mackenzie Bernadeau -- Depending on who you talk to he was the savior or the goat of last year's team. There are deep divisions over whether he was the best or the worst of last year's interior linemen. It is, however, indisputable that he is the youngest and that all hope of "development" from last year's free agent linemen resides in him. Injuries have again derailed his offseason and his development continues to be stunted. He has made two walkthroughs and one fully padded practice. I'll let Garrett explain: "He’s a little rusty, there’s no question about that," coach Jason Garrett said. "The difficult thing with Mackenzy is he played a lot of football for us last year during the season – believe he played in all 16 games – but he missed the offseason leading up to last season, and he’s missed this offseason. So when you miss a lot of that time, that’s really when you can grow and develop. He’s still a young player. Has not started that many games. But injuries have bothered him since he’s been here. So he’s just getting back into the mix again."
- The game tape -- the timing on this thing cannot be co-incidence. The day after reviewing game tape, they negotiate a deal with the single best available OG on the market after months (literally) of not doing so. Everyone was asking "what changed?" The only conceivable answer is "they reviewed the tape."
So, what does that tell us?
The immediate reaction of many has been to say "Garrett really didn't like Arkin's game tape". Cal Mendez wrote a brief article based on Garrett's lukewarm "Ark was pretty much what he's been" review of the game. Clarence Hill is today talking about Dallas's "urgent line issues", repeating the dead horse narrative. And to a certain extent, it makes sense-- why would they go get someone if they at all liked what they saw against Miami?
But the thing is, you *had* to like what you saw against Miami. Even Arkin's biggest critics freely admit that he played better than he ever has. Certainly the results were impressive. Certainly, too, the Leary/Costa/Frederick "solution" looked no better, and arguably looked worse, against inferior competition. After two years of hanging on to Arkin in the face of intense criticism, why on earth would they give up on the guy just as he's showing the most promise?
No. That can't be it. But there is still that "not quite ready" tag from even some of his biggest supporters and I think that, coupled with Garrett's review of Bernadeau above, is your key. Garrett's statement above implies that they pretty well know what they have in Bernadeau. They have him back at first team and I believe they think he is better than Arkin right now.
So where's the problem? I think I know, and I submit to you that it is a good one to have.
I think they saw enough from Arkin in the scrimmage that they believe there *is* a chance he's better than Bernie by the end of camp. So why is *that* a problem?
Coaches value experience. If Bernadeau beats Arkin, this isn't a problem. But what happens if Arkin wins the camp battle? Well then Garrett has a choice to make. He can start Arkin, but Leary and Frederick really do have the other two spots locked down, and that means that Garrett is running out a line where 3/5, the MIDDLE 3/5, the very HEART is taking their first ever NFL snaps... and one of those three, by even the most optimistic accounts, is not quite ready for primetime. That's enough to make any coach feel his seat warming up under him.
But the alternative, starting Bernadeau for his experience alone, would be catastrophic. The players know who can play and who can't regardless of what they say about it publicly. If Garrett starts someone merely for seniority, his entire message is going to look hypocritical. Arkin might be ruined and that's enough to give pause, but *every* young player without a draft pedigree is going to question whether he will be given a fair shot and the whole structure that Garrett has so painstakingly built over the last few years will come tumbling down.
"So what?", says the optimist, "start Arkin and let him grow into the role. That's good. We tried it in 2011 and with Leary and Frederick, it's much more likely to succeed this time!" And I think you're right, optimist in the mirror, but here's where you are not optimistic enough for Jason Garrett.
I think what Garrett saw in that game film was a team that could make a deep run. And that team starts off with 4 very winnable games, which are very important to put in your pocket, both for momentum and to store up wins against adversity (injuries) later. But the problem is 3 of those four teams have a very good pass rush. You don't want to throw your Three Amigos fresh off the movie lot into that mess and risk losing games for what very well could be a deep playoff contender.
Solution: you find a veteran who knows the system and can play at a high level and cement this team's o-line. You get him on an inexpensive one year contract so he's not a progress stopper for your young guys, and you get him to come in and anchor the line while the yuglies get a little seasoning. And that's what they did... except that Brandon Moore literally chose not to play ball with them.
But for the lesson to take from this? what does this say about our team? I'm investing in popcorn.
- Read more here: http://sportsblogs.star-telegram.com/cowboys/2013/08/rusty-bernadeaus-lack-of-availability-for-the-second-straight-year-leaves-cowboys-refiguring-ol-plan.html#storylink=cpy