Today (Monday) marks the beginning of the Dallas Cowboys offseason workouts. They are strictly voluntary at this point, and limited.
Remember while the offseason program starts today, it's more restricted than previous years. No on-field work with coaches for first 2 weeks— Rob Phillips (@robphillips3) April 16, 2012
One of the things the that got lost in the 2011 NFL Lockout (which, rumor has it, really sucked) was the chance for the Cowboys to make full use of one of the coaching hires that marked Jason Garrett's first full season as head coach. Mike Woicik was brought back to the team he had helped become a winner under Jimmy Johnson.
There has been a bit of a discussion here over the past year or so about just how big an impact the loss of the offseasoning conditioning program had on the Cowboys last year, and how much it might help in 2012. Some felt that it made little difference one way or another, since all teams were in the same boat with the lockout. Others, including me, felt that this was a big issue. Now that the team is finally getting to start the Woicik regimen, I thought it was a good time to stir things - uh, take another look at things.
On to my opinions after the jump.
In mustering my arguments about this topic, I did what all really good bloggers do: I went out and found an article by someone who largely agrees with me, in this case Rainer Sabin of the Dallas Morning News.
Last year, at around this time, the weight room at Valley Ranch was empty. The players were locked out and waging a labor battle with the NFL and its owners.
The workout program instituted by new strength and conditioning coach Mike Woicik proved to be collateral damage. And that was an unfortunate development for the Cowboys, considering that Woicik, who rejoined the Cowboys in 2011 after a seven-year stint with the club in the 1990s, had his fingerprints over the last two dynasties, in Dallas and New England.
"Only two teams have won three Super Bowls in four years, and he was the strength coach for both of them," former Cowboys fullback and Fox television analyst Daryl Johnston said. "And I don't think that is by coincidence."
One of the issues this caused for the Cowboys that most teams did not have to go through was that this was a new program for the team. Although the program is expected to have its biggest impact in the offseason, it does extend through the year. Instead of being able to get it in place in the spring last year, the team had to get it started along with everything else when the new CBA got signed. This is the first time that the Cowboys will be able to really get the program up and running the way it is intended to work, as a year round process (and you know about the Cowboys and processes). Last year, the players were caught in a roughly six month limbo, and then had to transition from the old system to the new. That is not exactly a formula for success.
And I think the team paid the price. The one great experiment of 2011 was the drastic move to a younger offensive line, and it was far less successful than most of us would have liked. If there is anyone on an NFL team that most needs a good strength program, it is a new offensive lineman trying to make the transition from college to the NFL. While it is hard to quantify, I think that there is no doubt that Bill Nagy, David Arkin, and to a lesser extent Phil Costa were limited in how much progress they could accomplish last year. (And I think Tyron Smith would have been even better, and Doug Free would have seemed less a disappointment, but then I am a believer in the concept.)
Right behind the O line are their counterparts across the way, the defensive front. Again, Dallas had some young players in Josh Brent, Clifton Geathers and Sean Lissemore that should have seen their play improved with a full offseason under Woicik.
I am sure that the team is also planning on much better play from the lines on both sides of the ball. Jerry Jones has stated that he considers the defensive line a strength of the team, and I think that is in large part based on what he thinks the team will have to start next season. He sees the raw material as being there, I think, and believes that the young players will do much better after Woicik has had them for the full offseason. And it's not just Jerry that seems to believe that. Rob Ryan's focus only on defensive backs, the lack of defensive linemen invited to visit the Cowboys so far, and the choice to go with some free agent guards who themselves need to improve their game indicate that the team feels like it can build with the material it already has in the trenches. Although Fletcher Cox and David DeCastro both seem to remain on the team's radar because they seem to be two of the best talents that are likely to be available for Dallas, I don't think the team is at all afraid of not getting any help for either line in the draft. The needs are, in the minds of the coaches, apparently more pressing elsewhere.
It is hard to keep all the moving parts for the Cowboys in view, sometimes. The draft is dominating our attention now, and a few weeks ago it was free agency. But the only smart way to do things (and I firmly believe that Jason Garret and company are doing things the smart way) is to see the big picture and figure out how everything fits together. Just as the team is getting better by acquiring new players, I think it is also getting better by improving the players it has. This is especially true with younger members of the team, and fits very well with the ongoing youth movement. And as Sabin reported, the HC is on board.
"We're excited about the opportunity to have our players be with [Woicik]," Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said, "because I think he has a track record of developing individual players and hopefully he'll help develop our football team."
One last thing. If any of you missed Tarheel Paul's amazing post about how tragedy struck his family in 2009 and the community here came together to support him, please click over there. It is sad and inspirational at the same time, will touch if not completely melt your heart, and has perhaps the greatest comment thread ever on BTB. Also, I would like to see nine more rec's for the post (based on the last time I looked) to get it to 100, so if you didn't before, please go there and consider rec'ing it now. (And now I'm holding back the tears - again.)