Perhaps it's Mike Woicik's strength and conditioning program. Perhaps it's an increased sense of urgency among the Dallas Cowboys players. Perhaps it's just the difference between no real offseason last year and a full offseason this year.
Whatever it is, the Cowboys appear to be in better physical shape than they've been in a while. Jason Hatcher, who has been working hard in the Cowboys' offseason strength and conditioning program, noticed a difference at the recent workouts:
"I think the biggest thing for us is to keep what we have earned," said Hatcher, who plans to work out with heavy leg exercises and lifting three times a week at the Cowboys facility. "Coach Woicik and his staff did a great job with us. I watched my body change. Everybody looked like they were in great shape. We are leaner, moving better. Guys need to stay in that shape."
Miles Austin caused a bit of a stir earlier this year when he said that he wasn't in the best physical shape entering last season. He later clarified those remarks, and credits his strength coaches for feeling better prepared this year.
"What I meant to say is that I felt prepared. I felt prepared, but what I’m doing now with (strength and conditioning coach Mike) Woicik and our team is different than what I was doing," Austin said Thursday night at Lone Star Park, where he attended the Stars of Texas fundraiser for diabetes research. "I’m confident in what we’re doing now. I feel good. I’m working out every day. I mean, I was working out every day before, but now I’m working out with our strength coaches."
But it's not just veteran players like Jason Hatcher and Miles Austin that are benefiting from Woicik's strength and conditioning program. The players standing to gain the most are young guys like David Arkin who still need to improve their strength and add mass to their bodies to compete at an NFL level. Arkin feels like one of the biggest issues during his rookie year was the lack of "anchor strength":
"I felt like that was a little bit of a problem for me, was my anchor strength," he said. He hopes that "anchor strength" won’t be the problem this year.
"I feel like I’ve gotten a lot better at that," he said during the last week of offseason practices. "I’ve been pretty much straight through, since the season started, lifting really hard. So I feel like it’s benefited me a lot."
Sean Lissemore has been turning heads at Valley ranch during the offseason, and Rex Ryan credits Mike Woicik with making Lissemore a potential starter:
"He's been through an incredible offseason with Mike Woicik," Ryan said. "This guy, his body’s changing, everything about him. He’s so fast for the game now. He knows his assignments. He’s doing a great job. The nice thing is, if we ever get in a situation where, God forbid, somebody gets hurt, Sean Lissemore can jump in in any spot and be an effective starter."
WR Dez Bryant was also all the rage during OTAs and minicamp, displaying a level of athleticism that is unusual even for the highly trained professional athletes playing professional football. And one of the reasons for that, as Bryant himself recently tweeted, is that his body fat is at an amazingly low 3.1%.
ILB Bruce Carter tore up the offseason practices and showed off a new, bulked up body: Carter weighed in at 233 at the start of last season; today dallascowboys.com currently has him listed at 246 one pound more than Sean Lee.
WR Andre Holmes weighed in at 223 pounds during OTAs after joining the team with 208 pounds last season. Holmes worked on ''getting stronger and bigger'' during the offseason.
WR Kevin Ogletree talked about adding bulk and increasing his strength in the offseason:
"Strength is something you need to play this game. And I'm not saying that I wasn't strong before, but really focusing on that is one of the things I've done this offseason."
When asked what made him decide to get a little bigger, Ogletree's reply was simple: "Brandon Carr, Mike Jenkins, Orlando Scandrick, those guys over there. Just to compete. To give myself and the team the best chance to [to win]."
According to Ogletree, WR Raymond Radway was "in the facility every day, in the weight room, training room, doing what it took." And along the way earned himself the nickname "Speedway" Radway for his - you guessed it - exceptional speed.
Todd Archer of ESPNDallas observed that WR Dwayne Harris changed his body from a year ago and is moving much better. Multiple reports out of camp said that Harris looked leaner and faster than he did last year.
A year late, the Cowboys are implementing Mike Woicik's strength and conditioning regimen. There has been some discussion about how big an impact the absence of a conditioning program had on the Cowboys last year, and how big a difference Woicik really is versus Joe Juraszek. If you go by what the players are saying, it certainly helped having a full offseason under Woicik, one of the most highly touted strength and conditioning coaches in the league.
At the end of the day though, all that really matters is that it sure looks like the Cowboys will be physically improved this year. And if they can carry that improvement late into games and late into the season, good things should await the Cowboys.