Not unlike most offseasons under Jason Garrett’s leadership, the Cowboys have had near-perfect attendance in the voluntary portions of Phase 3 otherwise known as OTA’s. It gets lost on us at times, but none of the Cowboys’ players are required to be practicing, yet nearly every bit of their 90-man roster is present and accounted for. The only mandatory practice session is a minicamp that takes place in mid-June.
It amazes me that this team is working towards a well-oiled machine by participating so heavily at a time where you could be resting your body. Even guys that are dealing with nicks and bruises are still at the facilities supporting one another at practice.
Just turning the lens towards the teams in this division and some big names are missing from voluntary workouts. Odell Beckham JR, Olivier Vernon, and Jason Pierre-Paul are missing practices. The Eagles haven’t seen Jason Peters and other guys including Fletcher Cox, Vinny Curry, Darren Sproles, and Tim Jernigan are missing time. For Washington, they’ve been missing Trent Williams and Jordan Reed too. This is not an indictment on veteran guys that prefer their off time, it’s just highlighting what the Cowboys ARE doing.
To be clear, we mentioned earlier that this is not something out of the ordinary for the Cowboys. But it would certainly be understandable for a veteran like Jason Witten to stay home a day or so entering his 15th season. Nobody is faulting guys for getting some good R&R. However, there are some clear paths to the motivation for such turnout at the Star; youth and competition.
First and foremost, the Cowboys are one of the younger teams in the NFL. Other than Jason Witten (15th), L.P. Ladouceur (13th), Orlando Scandrick (10th), and Darren McFadden (9th), not a single Cowboy has been in the league longer than seven seasons. The average age is 24 years and makes the Cowboys one of the younger teams in the league. Young players don’t necessarily work harder (because nobody seems to work harder than the grizzled Witten), but having a young team means a lot of guys are competing for a job in the NFL.
These aren’t established guys with a defined career, these are guys that are extremely impressionable, players with high motivations to carve out a role for themselves. Just last year, the Cowboys’ may have had the most impressive rookie class since 1975 when they drafted Randy White, Thomas Henderson, Bob Breunig, Pat Donovan, and Herbert Scott. Four on that list made the Pro Bowl in their rookie year. The lone guy to not make that ‘75 Pro Bowl was Randy White who went on to make nine of them, had nine All-Pro seasons, and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1994.
The catalysts for this team building process the Cowboys find themselves in is undoubtedly the fact that their team found so much fun and success in 2016 behind a rookie quarterback-running back duo. Youth has revitalized the Dallas Cowboys and it’s been building for a while. Another piece to this puzzle though is competition because we would be hard-pressed to find a year where there was heavier competition than right now.
Positions are open and up for grabs all over on both sides of the ball. Think about it, there is heavy competition at left guard, right tackle (somewhat), kick returner, edge rusher, defensive tackle, linebacker, cornerback, and safety. The Cowboys will look much different than they did a year ago. This competition is driving everyone to be their best or they could certainly be replaced with someone younger. The Cowboys drafted nine players, seven on defense, and they made it their goal to create a high level of competition.
Stephen Jones discussed this last week on “Talkin’ Cowboys,” where he mentioned how difficult it would be to cut this roster down. He felt very confident that anyone that was leaving this roster would find a quick new home. He even subtly mentioned that they believe it’s not unfathomable to see the Cowboys move a guy or two via a trade. Seriously, go back and listen to him.
That level of competition has surely motivated everyone to be present. Jason Garrett was asked about this and his response showed a little excitement:
“We’ve been very fortunate -- we have near 100 percent attendance of everything we do in the offseason program and we have a lot of guys who live here and a lot of guys who don’t live here, get here.”
There is a feeling surrounding this team that can be described as a fear of missing out. The veterans of the team are trying to show that they still belong while other veterans like Damontre Moore are eager to prove they’re ready to contribute. It’s not just former headaches like Moore that have been showing up, Nolan Carroll has looked ready to win a job, rookies like Ryan Switzer have already jumped off the page. This may be OTA’s where it’s shorts and helmets, but the atmosphere seems much more competitive than in year’s past, Garrett adds:
“They’re the right kind of guys. We have guys who care about football, care about this football team and care about getting better -- and that’s a manifestation of that.”
If you see the quotes from a lot of the “leaders” of the team, they describe this as an infectious attitude that every player has applied in their approach. Sure, it comes with having a 13-3 season to lose in the divisional round. We know that detractors will immediately talk about the 2008 offseason as similar. After 2007, the Wade Phillips’ coached Cowboys were all over the offseason in “Hard Knocks” fashion itching to get back to practice. There is a major difference here though and that’s only two players, Witten and Scandrick (rookie year), were on the team in 2008. This was long before vocal leader, Dez Bryant was a part of all this:
“All of that plays a factor into moving forward this year,” Bryant said. “Nobody told us to do that, you know, we just want to be better as a whole. It shows up.”
This is their own feeling in 2017, completely separate from Cowboys’ teams in the past. From everything we’ve been able to digest during these practices, it may seem like a cliche but there’s a “no nonsense” behavior at practice. Despite outside influences (Carroll’s DWI, David Irving’s PED problem), when practice starts, it’s all about getting better. The competition on the team is the driving force because winners and losers will be determined in training camp. They’re laying the foundation to be one of the most interesting teams to watch in the dog days of summer.
From top to bottom, the Cowboys have shown that every aspect of the offseason has its importance. Great teams are built through steady competition and the Cowboys’ certainly feel like they’re building a team capable of achieving greatness:
“At the end of the day everybody’s here, everybody’s getting in, getting extra work,” Prescott said. “People will be here hours after this practice is done, getting their body right, working out, watching film, hanging with each other a bunch. It’s everything you want to see in a team just growing together. We’re in this critical time right now. Games are won right now so we’re headed in the right direction in doing that.”