It is one of the schisms we have here at Blogging the Boys. There are some who feet that the Jason Garrett era got off to a rough start last season because the NFL Lockout (did somebody say that sucked?) denied the team much needed preparation and conditioning. Others will hold that it is an invalid argument because the Dallas Cowboys just faced the same situation that every other NFL team did, and if the New York Giants could become Super Bowl champions (a statement it still hurts to say) with some of the flaws and early season issues they had, the Cowboys should have been able overcome the situation if they were any good.
I have clearly staked my position with the former group. There were a variety of things that Dallas faced, and I don't think any other team had quite the same combination of challenges.
- A new head coach and defensive coordinator, plus several new assistants, did not get the time they needed to install everything, particularly the Rob Ryan defensive scheme.
- The culture was undergoing a serious makeover as well. Garrett had to purge the old way of thinking, best summarized by the old "Camp Cupcake" label, and install his own much more focused and demanding way of doing business.
- The team personnel was in the middle of a teardown and rebuild process, with aging, ineffective and costly veterans being cut and new, younger bodies being brought in.
- One part of JG5000's overall plan, and a major part of it, was essentially neutralized. That was Mike Woicik, brought back to the team to improve conditioning and strength.
This year, the offseason has been in full swing. Like so many of you, I have been eagerly looking for every scintilla of information on the team. One of the reasons I have been posting Twitter feeds every day the media is allowed into practice is that I am going to be reading all the tweets anyway, so I might as well make a post out of it.
And one of the things I have been picking up there and from various articles is that the offseason work is paying benefits. I think it is going to make a huge difference - like Dallas-in-the-playoffs huge.
My supporting evidence after you take a well-conditioned jump.
The full offseason with its attendant benefits is one of the two main factors that lead me to believe in Dallas having a 10 or 11 win season this year and making it into the post-season. The other is the infusion of talent from free agency and the draft, and hopefully a find or two in the UDFA ranks. And that goes hand in hand with the preparation and training in the offseason, which helps to get the new players ready to contribute on the field.
The players certainly seem to be buying into the idea. One of the key free agent signees, Brandon Carr, was struck by how hard his new teammates were working on it, even when they didn't have to.
After all, according to Carr, the Cowboys are different than most teams when it comes to preparing for the upcoming season.
"I was just surprised coming into this whole process of being a free agent and meeting with the Cowboys that a lot of the guys stay here and workout," Carr said after an NFL Play 60 fitness event in North Dallas. "That's something you don't really see with a lot of teams, guys staying for the off-season when they could be out traveling to other cities and other states. The guys are here and getting it in."
This says several things. It speaks to how hungry the Dallas players are, how serious they feel about this season, but also it shows how successful Garrett has been in changing the culture. One of the memes about the Cowboys is the "sense of entitilement" that the players supposedly have. Somehow, going in and working out during their time off does not sound like the behavior of a bunch of "entitled" players. This is a new bunch in Dallas, with a new attitude. (Anybody want to bet tanstaafl has some fun with that comment?)
It is not just something that a free agent coming to the team has noticed, either. One of the people who arguably lost a lot due to the Great Suckitude was Bill Nagy. As part of the Yuglies, Garrett's daring and not entirely successful project to radically transform the offensive line from old, big and slow to young, nimble and quick, Nagy could have used the offseason, something he readily acknowledges.
Second-year guard Bill Nagy can't help but wonder. What if last year was like this year?
What if he had gotten the benefits of OTAs, meetings and minicamps last year like this year's rookies are getting now?
"I see how much they're benefiting from all the meetings, all the work on the field, and we never had that," he said Wednesday after a minicamp practice at Valley Ranch. "I can only imagine how much that would have helped. But that's the way it went. I'm just thankful I'm here and have the opportunity."
The O line is one place where the two big improvements, new talent and a full offseason, may work in a synergistic way. Many of the veteran players are in a second or third year, when linemen often see a major improvement anyway. The addition of Nate Livings and the flipping of tackels Tyron Smith and Doug Free could combine with the coaching of Bill Callahan, part of this year's second wave coaching staff makeover, and Mike Woicik's strength work, to lead to a major step up in effectiveness for this unit.
But this is also an issue for the skill positions. One player who has long been a source of frustration for many fans is Kevin Ogletree. He famously got pushed down the wide receiver depth chart by Laurent Robinson, and now with Robinson gone to cash in on his success, KO has another chance to prove he is a reliable third WR. And so far, he may be making good on it.
Cowboys coaches and front office officials have raved about Ogletree's dedication this offseason. He sounds like a guy who realizes that it's time to get down to business.
"It's an honor to come out here every day," Ogletree said. "It's a privilege, it's a pleasure. I know if I come out here every day and stay focused, it gives me the best chance to have a big role on this team."
Hm. Sounds like he is reading the writing on the wall - or maybe just the signs.
And he is not the only wide receiver who is impressing the coaching staff with his improvement and effort this year. Dez Bryant is more important to this team than KO. But he has had some of the same issues, even though his raw talent and size have allowed him to still be productive. This year, he is wanting more.
Last year's lockout did him no favors either because he missed out on three months' worth of coaching, and then he was injured in the season opener, which slowed him for a significant portion of the year.
Bryant said he never felt 100 percent healthy last year following a thigh bruise suffered in the season opener. He only missed one game, but was clearly slowed by the pain for several weeks.
To prevent the same thing from happening again, Bryant has devoted himself to the team's offseason strength and conditioning program headed up by Mike Woicik. "It's been my main priority," Bryant said. "I feel like that's what's going to push me. I see a big change in my weight, in my strength, in everything. Coach Woicik's doing a great job with us. I feel way more explosive coming out of my cuts."
A second year under wide receivers coach Jimmy Robinson should help Bryant's route running and technique. With another season of continuity in the same offensive system, he should also have a better understanding of his job on a play-to-play basis.
And for what it is worth, Dez is getting a very important endorsement on the whole idea.
When asked what gives him hope Bryant will have a breakthrough in 2012, Jones didn't hesitate.
"His conditioning," Jerry Jones said. "If we can have him better conditioned, then we've got a chance to see him focused in the latter part of games as opposed to the first part of games. There's no question in my mind that our coaching staff, Jason (Garrett) and Dez are going to work out the ways to best use him in the route tree."
As you can see, it is not just one thing or one player that is benefitting from the full offseason of coaching, learning and conditioning. It is everyone, but mostly the young players. And Dallas is suddenly a very young team. Did the Lockout, in all it's vacuumous glory, have a greater effect on the Cowboys than other teams?
I think it did. More importantly, I think the full offseason with all the work and training is going to also have a bigger effect on this young team than most others. Maybe not huge - but I think it will be enough to keep this team playing into January.
Anybody disagree? The debate floor is now open.