Fight. It’s written across the chest of the training camp shirts in Valley Ranch. The Dallas Cowboys and head coach, Jason Garrett, have not kept it a secret– they want players to fight for spots on the roster, and fight through the last reps of practice. However, playing with such physicality comes with a price. With big hits on star players, and fights breaking out between teammates the Cowboys are playing too physical and hard nosed for today’s finesse style of play.
I know what you’re thinking. As fans of football, fight and gusto are qualities that we look for in players. Fans pull for the team tough-guy. Many fans grew up idolizing characters such as Dick Butkus, Mean Joe Greene, or even more recent physical presences like Roy Williams. Football is power, aggression, and strength culminating into the rough and tumble, yet skilled, product that we’ve watched for years.
It may be a tough pill to swallow for some fans, but football is no longer the game of old. Football has changed to create more scoring– favoring wide receivers over cornerbacks and protecting quarterbacks from the big hit. We have seen physicality work for teams, but they tend to be few and far between. For example, the Seattle Seahawks and their corners hang on receivers, almost daring officials to call a pass interference on every play. Are the Cowboys the Seahawks? Do the Cowboys have the defensive star-power to help get favorable calls? No. Not even close.
The hits in practice have been hard. The first sign of trouble came when rookie guard, Zack Martin, took down star linebacker, Sean Lee, in a non-contact drill during the first OTA practice. Flashes of that incident flew by the eyes of Cowboys fans as star wideout, Dez Bryant took a big hit across the middle from second year safety, J.J. Wilcox, in the Cowboys opening scrimmage.
Dez was not concerned with the hit– in fact, he embraced it.
“I love it. I love every bit of it,” said Bryant. “The reason why I love it is because that’s what we need. Just in the heat of the moment, it got physical. It turned into like a real competition. I felt it. J.J. put a nice hit on me. He pissed me off, but at the end of the day, I loved it. I told him, ‘Keep it coming.’ Hopefully the rest of the guys on that defense — not only the defense, but the offense and the whole team — feed off of that. That’s what it takes to win. That’s what we need to win. You’ve got to have that passion and that love for the game.”
Bryant and Wilcox, although heated, we’re an undercard for the most prolific fight of the off-season– Morris Claiborne vs. Terrence Williams stole the show. Claiborne, the underachieving corner, showed the massive chip on his shoulder while going against Williams, the up-and-coming wideout, during one-on-one drills. Claiborne, too, chalked the altercation up to competition.
“We’re still teammates,” said Claiborne, “We’re still buddies. It’s a physical game. In 1-on-1s it definitely gets physical out there. It was good competition.”
That’s all it is– competition. These Cowboys are teammates, and many of them are close friends. They are competing for pride, spots on the depth chart and roster, and for each other. However, the Cowboys are walking a fine line between fighting for each other and fighting against each other. The time to draw that line is now– not after an injury or a suspension.