The Dallas Cowboys completed their 1st week of Organized Team Activities without too many storylines and ammunition for local pundits. There were some notable absentees’ but nobody as important as Quarterback Tony Romo. Romo will miss all three weeks of OTA’s due to a cyst he had removed in Mid-April. The $108 million dollar quarterback hopes to be practicing by Mini-Camp but will definitely be good to go by Training Camp.
One thing that Tony Romo was practicing out at Valley Ranch was that of his leadership skills. Many have questioned Tony Romo’s leadership since he has been at the helm of this team, but after his media session on the first day of OTA’s; some of the guys from DallasCowboys.com pointed out that this may be a new Tony Romo. Since becoming the starter in 2006, Romo has been the most polarizing figure for the Cowboys organization. Everyone and their families have an opinion on Tony Romo. Even the media has made their own comments regarding the franchise quarterback’s inability to answer questions during media sessions; not anymore. Tony Romo spoke to media recently saying:
“I don’t feel I’m an 8-8 quarterback, and I don’t feel this is an 8-8 organization. Those things don’t sit well with you, and they eat at you. We’re going to do everything in our power to avoid that situation going forward.”
What Romo did was put that proverbial foot in front of the other and said it’s time to walk. The truth is that this team has been on the cusp of the playoffs the past two seasons to lose their last two games and miss the postseason in horrendous fashion. That is not to say it’s all Tony’s fault, there are other elements such as the many injuries to starters this team went through last season. However, good teams find ways to win, and the moves this offseason (though criticized by the masses) have led me to believe this team is on the rise.
Having watched the limited access to the OTA sessions thus far, one thing that stands out is the coaching. These coaches have a lot of young talent sprinkled throughout this team; the average age of the entire roster is 24.3. That’s 7 months younger than me and I’m certain I have a lot of room for improvement. The Dallas Cowboys have a lot of room for improvement as well; and things seem to be moving in the right direction. You can dissect this organization any way you please and put tags on them that may or may not be accurate, but even the tiniest of details such as changing the name on the defensive line’s study room to “rushmen” is a step to change mentality.
Ever since Jason Garrett has been the Head Coach things have been changing little by little. All of the new additions to the Coaching staff are familiar with Jason Garrett. He’s taking advantage of what he can control. In his opinion he has assembled the team of coaches necessary to create the atmosphere he wants inside this organization. Monte Kiffin has proven to be a fiery individual, as Rod Marinelli and Rich Bisaccia have in their own rights as well. The proof is in the tempo of these practices thus far. Bryan Broaddus has made notes that these new coaches seem to rubbing off on Jason Garrett and that his coaching style is starting to take shape in these practices.
We all know the type of players that Garrett and Co. tends to employ, and those are individuals with strong work ethics, and tend to be fighters in their right. What I mean by fighters are guys that have had to push themselves extremely hard to compete at the levels of some of the competition. Some of these guys will come from big schools like Wisconsin with Travis Frederick; others will come from William & Mary such as B.W. Webb and Sean Lissemore. However, these coaches will push every one of them to make them the best they can be.
The tempos of these practices have shown evidence of the direction this team will be moving going forward. There’s a good quote that I’m sure is somewhere in the halls at Valley Ranch and that is “practice how you play.” Those sentiments were echoed by Travis Frederick on Dallas Cowboys Star Magazine’s interview with the Center this week when he was questioned about his nasty streak often showing up during practice; he is just trying to prepare himself for his best game.
Switching to the Defensive side of things it was a peculiar thing to watch some of the footage of OTA’s and seeing every time a ball was thrown incomplete that these defenders would scoop it and run to the end zone. This is what they are being taught by their coaches, it’s a message that begins on the grizzled lips of Monte Kiffin: “Get Turnovers.” It has been a known factor in the success of all of the league’s best teams; they get turnovers that change the momentum during games. Don’t believe it ask Ben Roethlisberger about his overtime interception he threw to Brandon Carr: game over. The Cowboy’s Defense has struggled as a whole to produce turnovers in the past few seasons, and Kiffin and Marinelli want to change that.
The one factor that is going to drive this team during this period of practices and leading through Training Camp is going to be competition. There are many spots on this team that don’t have a clear-cut starter, which is one of the best values in my opinion heading into Training Camp. If your team has three to four guys vying for spots, that is only going to make your team better. The position battles are going to be extremely interesting in the weeks to come. The youth movement is exciting because I believe in this defensive scheme or hell in this division for that matter; speed is a major factor. The Cowboys did their best this offseason to acquire some speed on both sides of the ball. Speed is one variable to receivers like Miles Austin and Dez Bryant, but speed added with awareness and instinct are another thing to linebackers like Sean Lee and Bruce Carter.
The competition along the Offensive Line is going to heat up as well. Now that Doug Free has accepted his pay-cut he still has to compete with Jeremy Parnell and others such as Weems or Coughman. Ronald Leary is taking advantage of his opportunities to win a spot at Guard, and don’t be so sure that Phil Costa is going away anytime soon. Broaddus had some positive things to say about Pollack and Callahan’s teachings of techniques. There seems to be a bit more depth than I expected at first, and hopefully with a good bill of health this Offensive Line can make waves at gaining the invaluable continuity it desperately needs.
I mentioned earlier the Defensive Backs, but didn’t go into detail regarding the positions and upcoming competition. Morris Claiborne has added about 6 pounds of muscle which is great news for Jerome Henderson teaching his physical corner mentality. It has been discussed previously that these corners will not necessarily be a typical Cover-2 corner, which is a relief to some including me, because when you have press-man corners with the talents of Claiborne and Carr; you have to let them be good at what they do. No knock to Rob Ryan but by simplifying the scheme maybe it can give these players some confidence in their skill-sets and allow more room to flourish.
One concern has been the age of the Defensive Line, which has a 3-Technique at age 32, who is returning from an injury riddled season. Although DeMarcus Ware is also limited right now, there is no reason for panic yet. The only true spot that doesn’t have a proven player at the spot is the 1-Technique Defensive Tackle position. There is room for optimism along the Defensive Line with Coach Marinelli, his Bears finished 8th against the run last year and 5th in 2011 which coincidentally were the same finishes they had in passing defense. All the word from OTA’s thus far has pegged Anthony Spencer as a great fit with his hand in the turf. You cannot forget about the investments in Crawford, Wilber, Hatcher and even guys like Ben Bass. In the end, I believe this Defense is going to be a much improved squad and hopefully can stay healthier to compete for the division down the stretch.
All of these aforementioned points and talking pieces are just that; just words. The words don’t go out there and execute. As a whole this team’s biggest need is better execution, only 1 team at the end of each season has successfully completed the amount execution to call themselves champions. The attitude, tempo, and sheer excitement mixed with focus and execution can take these Cowboys to where they want to be. All you can ask for is that these Coaches can give their best efforts to put the very best 53 man roster together; and that those 53 will go out there on the field and show that these Coaches messages are clear. A lot about being successful in anything is about having the will to win; and I know there are some players on this Cowboys team whose only focus is winning. The Dallas Cowboys don’t want to be an 8-8 squad any longer; well they now have a chance to shed their labels of inconsistency and mediocrity.