All offseason long, Jason Garrett has made it his mission to keep his message clear and precise to his football team that just came off a 12-4 season with a playoff win. This is not the 2014 season and things can change in an instant. The veterans on this new Cowboys football team have become very aware of this notion because they've lived it several times already.
Of course, we're talking about that 2007 playoff game where the Cowboys came in rested, but maybe a little too rested. That was the year that the Cowboys went 13-3 and had a bye plus home-field advantage throughout the postseason. Yet, Wade Phillips' relaxed demeanor mixed with a hobbled Terrell Owens and a very green Tony Romo was a recipe for disaster. Dallas was stunned in the divisional round and sent home earlier than they certainly expected while the New York Giants went on to defeat the undefeated in the Super Bowl.
The hype train in the 2008 offseason was alive and well as the Cowboys realized their potential a year earlier to only fumble the ball against their hated rival. However, though the team, the fans and most of the major media was excited, the approach never changed. They took chances on some embattled players that they hoped would help them solidify a Super Bowl contending squad. They had HBO camera crews following their every move and what you saw resembled an undoubtedly talented bunch, but it was overshadowed by way too many outside influences. Dallas would enter the last two weeks at 9-5 despite losing Romo for two weeks to a dislocated throwing finger. But soon all hopes were dashed when the dropped a game at home to the Baltimore Ravens and got the snot beat out of them the very next week in Philly, 44-6.
That would then light a fire under coach Wade Phillips seat and cause the Cowboys to reflect on their team. They would move on from locker room nightmares like Terrell Owens and get rid of the headaches that were Tank Johnson and Adam Jones. The very next season, Romo led the team to an 11-5 record and grab the team's first postseason victory in over a decade. Following the 2009 season, Dallas looked poised for another run but they were derailed by a 1-7 start and the loss of Romo for the year with a broken collarbone. The rest is history as Phillips was fired midseason and Garrett led the team to a 5-3 record in the interim with Jon Kitna at the helm. When Garrett was given the reins officially that offseason, he knew that the entire culture needed to change. Over the course of the next four years, Garrett would do just that and then some. Tom Ryle has you covered on that right here.
Perhaps one of Garrett's best traits is that he has shown to be a great evaluator of talent. It certainly helped that he was born into the environment with his father being Jim Garrett. However, Garrett's evaluations go much further than just being able to find good players. He was such a sponge as a player himself that just about everyone around him, including Troy Aikman and Jimmy Johnson, knew he was meant to coach. That being said, Garrett should also get a lot of credit for ability to assemble the right staff, too. Which is also touched on by the above article written by Tom. Personally, it's Garrett's approach that has made a world of difference, how else do you explain him keeping the heads and hearts of a team that had three 8-8 seasons in his first three years. It just takes time to build the program.
So the Cowboys have their first game coming up against those pesky Giants and surely don't want to come out flat and slow like last year's opener. They won't come out that way either, be sure of it. Dallas is opening their season for the first time in two years with a seemingly healthy Tony Romo and a focused bunch behind him. Having been to the last five training camps including the lockout year, there was something different about this year's camp. Though the fans were certainly as hyped as ever, the practices for the most part were pretty boring. That's exactly as Jason Garrett and the other coaches would have it. Even the veteran internet staffers like Nick Eatman, Rob Phillips and David Helman found themselves ecstatic for camp to end. After 30+ days out in Oxnard plus the daily afternoon grind of business as usual took it's toll on the lot of them. Yet, even with all the aforementioned, the focus of all the players and coaches held true through all the 'dog days of summer'.
It was clear that Jason Garrett had his team with a single-minded focus on just improving everyday and competing their tails off. Limited cameras, no pomp and circumstance, just football. You hear coaches regularly speak about creating diverse environments where status doesn't matter. For a coach to get the players to buy in like that takes more work, though it helps when your starting franchise quarterback is undrafted.
These coaches and scouting department guys have truly proven that they are indiscriminate towards players and couldn't care less about how they came to this organization. It's all about "now you are here and you are going to get coached." Last season alone, the Dallas Cowboys had ten undrafted players start games for them and they will have even more this season. If you are a fighter and show that you love football, they can find a spot for guy like that. After all, it takes quite a motor to be successful in this league and the Cowboys have shown that attribute to be their most important. How do you exactly explain the overachievers that was last year's squad?
So as we enter the season, there is some understandable anxiousness that comes with it. A quick start is what every team would like to have and the Cowboys first part of their schedule is deemed the hardest. In the past, Cowboys fans would be very nervous right now, the team certainly earned the 'Cardiac Cowboys' moniker over the years, but it is that focus that has optimism at it's height. Jason Garrett will not allow these players to get comfortable, go through the motions, or have any sense of the "we got this" mentality. Every game is it's own obstacle and there is no room on Garrett's Cowboys for a guy who looks ahead of today or can't keep his focus on the 'little things' it takes to be your very best, each day, regardless of circumstance. Though Dallas opens up as a touchdown favorite over the Giants, it doesn't mean anything to Garrett. The Cowboys will be ready for the Giants' best punch come Sunday night because Garrett will accept nothing less.