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New Names Emerge In OTAs As Cowboys Future Leaders

Only entering his third year in the NFL, Sean Lee is already emerging as a team leader.
Only entering his third year in the NFL, Sean Lee is already emerging as a team leader.

A couple of weeks ago, we looked at how the Cowboys' roster has churned since 2010, and found that less than half of the players who went into the 2010 season remain on the current roster. To be exact, 24 players are left from the 2010 opening day roster. We also saw that those numbers are not unusual, as the three other teams in the NFC East had similar churn rates.

And while it's easy for us to keep track of the comings and goings on the roster, what is far from simple is assessing the impact the churn has on team dynamics. Over the last two years, a lot of veterans have left the team, and with them a significant part of the leadership on the team has gone. Players like Marc Colombo, who was a significant locker room presence and the de facto captain of the offensive line. Players like Bradie James, a team captain for many years and a Right Kind of Guy long before the term was ever coined.

One of the most visible aspects of team dynamics that we can all see are the players the head coach selects as team captains every year. Here are the Dallas Cowboys team captains for the last two seasons:

2011 2010
Team Unit Team Captains Team Captains
Offense Tony Romo, Jason Witten Tony Romo, Jason Witten, Marion Barber
Defense Bradie James, DeMarcus Ware, Bradie James, DeMarcus Ware, Keith Brooking
Special Teams Mat McBriar
Sam Hurd

It's way too early to talk about who Garrett will select as team captains this year, but we recently got an inkling of which players Garrett currently considers as part of the extended leadership circle of the team.

Like most NFL teams, the Cowboys traditionally announce their team captains on or very close to opening weekend. This is usually something that is done without much fanfare, and in past years, the names have held little surprise as the captains were usually chosen from among the most visible players on the team.

But last week, Garrett gave us an early glimpse of which players he'll be leaning on this season. On their 10th and final day of OTA's, the Cowboys didn't practice at all, instead turning their players into coaches for a one-day 7-on-7 football tournament for 160 high school football players from the Dallas-Fort Worth area. The 160 youths were split into eight teams, each of which was assigned a head coach by Jason Garrett. The head coaches in turn selected their assistant coaches from the remaining players on the Cowboys' roster.

The players Garrett selected as head coaches included familiar names in Tony Romo, Miles Austin, Jason Witten, Jay Ratliff and DeMarcus Ware, but also included three new names that don't automatically spring to mind when talking about veteran leadership on the team: Sean Lee, Doug Free and Gerald Sensabaugh.

None of three last names come as a complete shock, but they are noteworthy nonetheless. Sean Lee in particular stands out to me: There are 27 players currently on the roster who've been in the league longer than Lee has, so it bodes extremely well for the Cowboys that one of their younger guys is emerging as a leader. Doug Free, with five seasons as a Cowboy and at 28 years of age, is the longest tenured Cowboys offensive lineman. When was the last time, if ever, that you could say that sentence about the Cowboys' O-line?

But the most surprising pick, at least for me, is Gerald Sensabaugh. I've never perceived him as a particularly vocal player. In fact, perhaps because he's soft-spoken, articulate and wears glasses, I've lazily compartmentalized him as 'not a leader' on my mental map of the Cowboys roster. And the Cowboys offering him three successive one-year contracts certainly didn't help there either. Well, I guess it's time to correct my assessment of the player. And probably not just this player either.

But back to the 7-on-7 youth tournament. Jason Witten's team won the tournament with a 4-0 record, beating Doug Free's team in the tournament final. Witten's assistant coaches were Brandon Carr, Dez Bryant and Barry Church.

Most impressive to observers was the enthusiasm level of the Cowboys players as they coached their teams. Dez Bryant and Barry Church were whooping, chest bumping, high-fiving and cheering louder than nearly any fan at any of their own games.

For now, Garrett's selections only included Cowboys veterans and none of the recently acquired free agents like Brandon Carr, Lawrence Vickers and Nate Livings, but chances are that they'll be a big part of how this team ticks over the course of the season - except we may not always be privy to these team dynamics.

I'll take this as a timely reminder to keep in mind that how a player is protrayed and/or preceived in public can have little in common with how he is perceived by his coaches and teammates.


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