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2009 Dallas Cowboys: This Time It Feels Different

[Ed. Note] Even though this is posted under my by-line, this is actually a post from our good friend Brandon Worley. Most of you remember Brandon from his blogging days here at BTB before he moved on to his Dallas Stars blog, Defending Big D. Brandon had some thoughts on his mind and asked if I would post them. So here is Brandon's take on the offseason. [End Note]

 - Guest Post by Brandon Worley -

If I were to be completely honest, I would have to admit that deep down I felt that last season was going to end in bitter disappointment. I had this nauseating feeling in my gut that the playoff victory we've all desired for so long would not come in 2008. Every Cowboys fan was pumped about what we felt was a team that had all the pieces in place, nearly the same team that went 13-3 the season before. Yet last summer as the Cowboys went through training camp and the preseason I couldn't shake that feeling of impending doom, a premonition that unfortunately came true.

Make the jump for much more, it's a long one.

Despite what anyone on the team said at the time, having the HBO cameras present during training camp for the filming of Hard Knocks was something the Cowboys definitely did not need. After a tremendous regular season in 2007, Dallas had once again stumbled in December and failed in the playoffs. Nearly the exact same team was returning to training camp that summer; what the Cowboys needed was a drive to refocus and once again find a way to overcome the disappointments of the previous season. While the HBO cameras failed to find earth-shattering controversy in the Cowboys locker room, they did expose and magnify the overpowering individual personalities that existed on this team last season.

From the very start there was just too much individuality about the team, too much spectacle and too much talking about how things were different when in reality they stayed the same. This had always been a team that was the biggest news story in football, but this time it was getting bigger than it deserved to be. Everyone expected the magic of 2007 to easily return without having to work for it and when this team had its back against the wall, they failed to overcome adversity and suffered two of the most embarrassing losses in franchise history.

After the loss to Philadelphia in the final week of the season, a despondent Wade Phillips stated how things were going to change. Cowboys fans heard the words without believing; after all this was the same talk we heard just a year before. At first it seemed that the team would stay the course, the same as last season, but then it immediately became obvious that Phillips and Jerry Jones were dead serious with their promises of change.

It started with the "gag order" placed on everyone in the organization except for Jones himself. While many were perplexed and a bit amused, to me it was the first sign that the owner of the Cowboys had decided to finally wake up a bit and realize just how bad things had become. He wanted the team to distance itself from the spotlight as much as they could (however little that might actually be) while taking the time to assess what needed to be done to set the Dallas Cowboys back on the right track.

The first step was to part ways with the players on the team that went out of their way to be individuals, no matter how talented they might be. Terrell Owens, Tank Johnson, Adam Jones, and Greg Ellis were all shown the door. While each of these players helped the team on the field, it was their effect on the locker room that truly needed to be addressed. For too long the Dallas Cowboys had been a team comprised of talented stars; while on paper it seems like the perfect plan to build a team around the top talent in the league, in reality the only thing that matters is how tight and close of a team they can become. Looking at the past Super Bowl champions, you see teams that pulled together and played for each other.

Despite the talent the Cowboys have had the past few years it's been a long time since we saw a team that could be thought of as a cohesive, single unit; a true team. There were flashes last season when the defense started to finally realize its potential and dominate, where Romo fought through painful injuries to win big games against division opponents but when it mattered most, no one showed up. It seemed as if each player was waiting for the other guy to make the play, to step up and take the reins. No true leaders, just a bunch of individuals running around on a field getting embarrassed on national television.

The Cowboys key offseason additions will add a positive attitude into the locker room despite not being the custom flashy moves we've been used to in the past. Each of these veterans understands the true concept of team play, and is known for their hard work both on the field and off of it. In the draft, the Cowboys made it a point to target players known for their work ethic and raw talent. Rookies who desire nothing but to learn and grow as a player while doing all they can to help the team win.

None of the first year players are expected to contribute much outside of special teams, but their hard work will provide the backbone for the makeup of the 2009 Dallas Cowboys. The old adage holds just as true in football as anywhere else: "You're only as strong as your weakest man."

The influx of team-oriented, hard working players certainly makes the fans feel good but it's the subtle change in attitude that has to make everyone feel a bit more excited as training camp approaches. Gone are the players in the locker that threaten to divide the players at any moment. Gone are the added distractions that made everything so much more complicated last season. The players are a bit more subdued (except for perhaps Martellus Bennett) than we've been used to in the past and you get the feeling everyone is a bit more humble than a year ago.

It's taken a long time, with many years of disappointment, but this change in attitude has finally started at the top. He'll never completely give up on the public glory the Dallas Cowboys brings, but Jerry Jones has gone against his gut, listened to his coaches and front office and done what was needed to institute change in this team. Wade Phillips promised things would be different and it's already apparent that he's taken steps to make good on that guarantee. The players have admitted he's taken a much more personal interest in every aspect of the team, and especially the defense. The reports from mini-camps all stated how things were much more serious than in years past, with coaches being much more strict and outspoken than we've been used.

Most importantly, Tony Romo now has the chance to truly claim this team as his. He'll never be the spitting and yelling type of leader that perhaps some want him to be, but he was the opportunity to become exactly what this team needs most. They need their quarterback to demand accountability from every single player on the field. With the personalities that existed before, this was far from possible. Imagine the uproar if the cameras had caught Romo and T.O. in a heated debate on the sidelines after Owens ran the wrong route, leading to an interception. Now Romo can feel free to demand perfection from the players on the field, no matter if it's the starting tight end or the fourth receiver.

The attitude among the players remains upbeat and fun-loving, but you can also detect a quiet intensity building. The Cowboys have been one of the most underwhelming, underachieving teams in the NFL for the past three years and the window won't be open forever. Wade Phillips knows that this is his last chance to prove he deserves to be the head coach of America's Team. The Cowboys are walking into a perfect storm, where the talent on the field is matched only by the drive to play as a team. Just like last year when I couldn't quite put my finger on why it all felt so wrong, I wish I could pinpoint exactly why I feel so confident this summer. Perhaps it's because I feel that this Dallas Cowboys team will finally come together, where each player knows there are only as good as the guy in the 53rd roster spot.

Last year I couldn't shake the feeling that the Cowboys were headed for disappointment. This time, to me, it feels different.

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