Dallas Cowboys 2014 Training Camp is here! The players will have their first practice tomorrow, but the annual unofficial start is the Oxnard, CA 'State of the Union' press conference. While there are far more questions about the Cowboys 2014 season that can't be answered until the team hits the practice fields, there are certainly important insights to be gathered from Jerry Jones and Jason Garrett.
Here are some first impression, quick-take tidbits and answers provided by the Cowboys owner/general manager and the head coach.
Robert Newhouse and Pat Bowlen
After some quick "thank you" to the media and Oxnard, the first order of business during the press conference was to relay some heartfelt messages about the loss of Cowboys great Robert Newhouse. Jerry Jones explained his deep admiration for Newhouse who was the first former Cowboys player invited to help the franchise after Jerry bought the team. He discussed the tremendous impact he had on others in the front office and Cowboys players. Jason Garrett recalled how Newhouse was "certainly a favorite player of mine, and people I knew" as he was growing up as a Cowboys fan and also discussed his appreciation of Newhouse as a person once he got to know him when Garrett joined the team in the 90's.
Jerry Jones also discussed his fondness of Pat Bowlen who relinquished his duties with the Denver Broncos due to his health, and seemed to imply that Bowlen was actually an inspiration to Jerry when he considered buying the Cowboys franchise.
Playoff Expectations This Year or Looking to Next Year?
Not surprisingly, the first question asked was about the expectations Jerry Jones had for the Cowboys in 2014. Jerry explained the team has never had more new faces during their opening training camp meeting where coach Garrett relayed to the team the goals for this season, and said, "I'm very optimistic we have a team that can pull together and find success." He went on to explain the team has gotten younger and is full of players that are excited at the opportunities in front of them, and it makes Jerry "optimistic about our chances to compete, and compete right now."
Jerry discussed how the team is not only younger, but is in a better cap situation and ready to compete this season, but also in a great place moving forward. Because of this great situation the team finds itself, Jerry also explained being "particularly excited about the person next to me [Jason Garrett]...excited about the coaching staff."
Jason Garrett on the Hot Seat?
A natural follow-up question to Jerry Jones' praise for the man next to him led to the question everyone expected, but perhaps few expected such a clear cut answer:
This is not a make or break situation for Jason and members of the staff...Nobody has a better feel for me than Jason.
Jerry threw in a pause about 'as it pertains to our record' and seemed pretty clear that it would not be a playoff birth or a particular team record that would be the deciding factor on Garrett's future with the team, though he also didn't mention anything about a new contract.
The Conditioning Test
Jason Garrett explained that he was never a huge fan of the conditioning test (as a player or as a coach) because the nature of it seemed like bad timing. Particularly, he didn't like the conditioning test fell between "getting off a plane then in 24 hours have a competitive practice." So he informed his players that there would not be a conditioning test in Oxnard, and instead they would do some dynamic warm-up and stretching and then some running to get ready to practice football tomorrow. In fact, the press conference ended with the media asked to re-aim their cameras so they would not film said warm-up and run.
However, both Garrett and Jones made it clear they thought is was very impressive how the team and the leaders responded to the news and how they decided to run their own conditioning tests in Dallas before getting on a plane and with more time to rest before a competitive practice. Jason also made it clear that the same logic would have him delay any competitive practice between the offense and defense until a couple days into training camp when the players put on pads. They will have intense practices and there will be competition between players, just not in a scrimmage environment. Seems Garrett continues to change things in hopes of preventing injuries.
On Releasing Kyle Orton
When asked about the timing in releasing Kyle Orton, it was made clear that the decision occurred because conversation with Orton led the team to believe he would not retire and actually show up to training camp. While Jerry Jones seemed to dance around the politics and implications that Orton was going to show up so he wouldn't have to return any money but wasn't really excited about it, Jones explained that the decision was made because of cap implications and how well Brandon Weeden played during OTAs. Then he seemed to go into some Garrettism explanation about it being one of those situations where you have to be present and have to be committed and actually proving yourself on the field, and Weeden did that and Orton did not, and the added cap space made the decision even easier.
Will Tony Romo and Henry Melton be Ready for the First Practice?
Garrett explained (at different times in the press conference) that both players were outstanding in their recovery process and how they worked hard to get ready. They have both been cleared and are ready to practice day one. There are "No issues, no obstacles, full go tomorrow. Ready to go for all aspects" He did make it clear the team would be monitoring them closely and making sure they are getting quality reps and responding well and not getting overworked. Specifically for Melton, Garrett explained he could see tangible improvements during OTAs and he's "very optimistic about what he'll be able to do tomorrow."
"Guys held out of competitive situations in OTAs will be ready to go," Jason Garrett said. When the media asked about specific names, he confirmed guys like Matt Johnson, DeVonte Holloman, and George Selvie were ready to go. However, when someone asked about Ron Leary, Garrett was not quick with his "yes" response and said Leary may not be involved. Apparently there are some issues there that must be monitored. As expected, Anthony Spencer and Amobi Okoye will not be participating, and no clarification of the latter's injury was provided.
Rolando McClain - Risks and Rewards
Garrett expects McClain do be involved with the team practice tomorrow, but will the leave for his court appearance, miss Friday, but likely be back during the weekend. When asked why he was comfortable taking a risk on him, Garrett explained it had a lot to do with Nick Saban and a trip Garrett took back in 2009 when he visited Alabama and saw a practice. He was impressed with what he saw of McClain back then and Saban had told him Rolando "might be one of the best players I've ever coached."
Garrett went on to explain he "felt like with his [McClain] ability...maybe we can help him through some of the issues he's had and get him back to the player he could be." Jerry explained Sean Lee's injury played a role in considering the move, but that he also knew "a lot of successful people that quit, and then came back to have tremendous success at something else, and in many cases what they'd quit."
Hopes for the Defense?
Jason Garrett believes in this defense because of three main factors.
"Young guys, guys chomping at the bit for an opportunity, and a better job from us as a coaching staff...evaluating how we use our players, what we ask them to do, and how to do things better."
Jerry Jones went on to say he felt that the team was getting the best of both worlds by retaining Monte Kiffin and all his knowledge and experience while having Rod Marinelli as the defensive coordinator. He also brought up the cap situation the team is in and how "We've made some dramatic decision, not least of which was DeMarcus Ware...that kind of money can be spread across more players." He was happy that they had 16 different Rushmen that will compete and try to prove themselves for this team, and the improved cap situation will continue to help the team in the long run. Jerry also made it clear he believed this defense was "better on paper" than the defense that lined-up against the Eagles Week 17.
On the Coaching Staff Changes
"A guiding principle for us is every decision we make is about the team, the team, the team," Garrett explained. And because Bill Callahan is a pro and understands this concept, there are no hard feelings about him going back to his previous duties. The biggest reason Jason hired Scott Linehan was because he saw it as a great opportunity to bring in someone that he had a lot of respect for, had learned a lot from, and who had a similar offensive philosophy to his own. Jason believes that Callahan and Linehan provide a "great combination of expertise" that will help the team have a great offense.
After that, the media was politely asked to move along so the team could get onto the field.