Dallas Cowboys’ training camp finally arrives tomorrow as the players will officially report to Oxnard, CA. If you are anything like me, you’ve been chomping at the bit to view this bizarre off-season in the rear view mirror.
We have endured the arrest of an alleged murderer (more than one victim in separate events), who is a well-known, high-caliber player. DUI’s continued to run rampant even after Aaron Hernandez was discovered and teams went on high alert.
Almost as strange as all of that, the Cowboys were as quiet and dormant in significant player acquisition and trouble-making as we’ve witnessed in several years.
It seems Dez Bryant has finally gotten over the immaturity mountain and the rest of the guys are on the straight and narrow as well.
The biggest controversies were over the mystery play-caller and Tony Romo sitting out all mini-camp after a cyst removal.
Dallas’ trouble-free off-season is a huge positive compared to most Cowboys teams of the relevant past, yet there are many football-related positives heading into this year’s training camp that also distances this team.
One of these changes will completely revamp the energy and feel of the Cowboy’s Camp. The major coaching moves made during the off-season will likely be the biggest reason these Dallas Cowboys will finally tear down the wall, win the NFC East, and enter the 2013 playoffs.
MONTE KIFFIN / ROD MARINELLI
There are several positive benefits to hiring Monte Kiffin and Rod Marinelli to bring a dominant defense back to Dallas. The first one which can’t be overlooked is the passion and presence these men assert.
When a blundering player looks an angry Kiffin or Marinelli in the eyes, they will certainly take immediate notice, and make a quick adjustment to correct their mistake.
These guys are well-respected across the league as masters of their craft. They are passionate, intense, and love what they do.
When either of them talk, not a player on the defense will turn a deaf ear. The level of vocal, constant motivation (positive and negative reinforcement) and respect these two coaches bring to the party is immeasurable.
The Cowboys’ defense has not seen a package deal like that in years from high-level defensive coaching. Its effects make players conscious and fearful of mistakes, while also craving consistent success…the ultimate combination for winning football.
4-3 DEFENSE BETTER FIT
Without going into much technical detail as to why the new 4-3 defense will be a more natural fit for the Cowboys’ personnel, let’s just say some of the main stars will resurrect and flourish.
Jay Ratliff and DeMarcus Ware will have monster years with the new principles and locations of their positions. Both finally healthy, this 4-3 defense puts these guys nose to nose with their opponent and unleashes them to penetrate.
There will be very limited ‘read and react’ like they were responsible for in the 3-4 defense. Ratliff and Ware will mostly get the green light to blast across the line on first movement and terrorize the backfield. I can’t think of 2 guys I’d rather have on my team pinning their ears back and causing havoc.
The benefits continue at many other defensive positions, but I assume most people get the picture for now. You will see for yourself in a few days when the pads come on. I feel sorry for the leaky, unsure o-line during this training camp. Nothing like facing off against 4 talented vets (3 Pro Bowlers) as each tries to perfect their new position.
JASON GARRETT, ‘REAL’ HEAD COACH
It’s simply human nature, the more time you spend around someone working towards a mutual goal, the closer you will become and deeper your connection will expand.
Playing football on one side of the ball strongly limits the connection between a player and the coordinator on the opposite side of the ball. For example, a defensive tackle almost always has limited contact and connection with a Offensive Coordinator / QB Coach.
While Jason Garrett spent most of his time orchestrating the Cowboys’ offense, he left a whole side of the ball relatively unattended.
Attending to your players means being around them regularly, and interacting with them during their reps.
Garrett will contend he spent a good amount of time with both sides, but there is simply no way that’s correct. If your responsibility is calling plays for the offense, that’s where you will be 80+% of practice. While that set-up can and does work sometimes, it’s not ideal for the dynamics of this team.
This team is still trying to find itself. They are trying to put all the pieces together and develop an identity and swagger. Until they taste success past 8-8, Garrett needs to focus on the TEAM and all of his players regularly. He must interact with them, correct them during practice mistakes, encourage them when they make a play, etc.
BILL CALLAHAN BRINGS ACCOUNTABILITY
ACCOUNTABLE FOR OWN RESULTS
The Cowboys may preach a collective offensive plan, but Bill Callahan calls the shots as the new play-caller. He will do it daily in practice, play after play. Garrett won’t be around for all of it, and Tony Romo will be busy quarterbacking or preparing to play.
Translation = Bill Callahan is your main offensive coach and shot-caller. I accept the public use of kid’s gloves when making this change, but it is what it is.
When the heads start clashing, the one calling the plays becomes responsible.
When the plays being called are pathetic and ineffective in a crucial game, who will everyone blame? They won’t be moaning about the collective group of offensive coaches when it is Bill Callahan’s face constantly on the camera calling the plays.
Callahan now owns the blame for overall offensive failure in a game, and the praise for success. I assure you the job he does will be much more significant than the rest of the offensive group, especially with public judgement solely on his shoulders.
PLAYERS MORE ACCOUNTABLE
The great news is that Callahan is a more assertive and enforcing coach then Garrett. He has a full assortment of nasty faces for player failures, along with positive praise in his bag of tricks. The bottom line is he is not afraid to firmly criticize a bumbling player. Due to his high level of responsibility now, he finally can exercise these traits in Dallas.
If there is one major change I feel is crucial to getting over the hump, it is making the players firmly accountable. The days of back-patting and clapping after mistakes need to disappear. The country club mentality must perish with it.
There is no greater motivator than negative reinforcement from a coach you respect that respects you…without it, you aren’t being pushed to your limits or making a huge effort to stay away from mistakes. This team needs a nasty streak.
There is no doubt the Cowboys’ offense has missed this ingredient for quite some time. It’s very evident by the amount of penalties and the lack of toughness in their play. A tough offense gets a nasty streak when in short-yardage or the red zone. Dallas has been miserable at both lately.
Clearly the Dallas offense is headed for change. Look no further than 4 tight ends and 0 fullbacks on the roster. We’ve already been told to expect the “12 package” and the Cowboys undoubtedly selected TE Gavin Escobar in the 2nd round for this exact reason.
The “12 package” involves a second TE known as the “move” TE or H-back. This role is best fitted for the basketball type athletes making a presence in the NFL.
Size and athleticism are crucial for the “move” TE, Escobar has both, along with unbelievable hands.
The early selection was a head-scratcher until I realized Dallas had no interest in employing a fullback, and Escobar is exactly what you want for this package. The “move” TE is typically covered by a LB in base defenses, which gives a guy like Escobar an athletic mismatch over most defenders he will face.
When the defense is in nickel, he will then have a big size advantage over a secondary player. Not to mention if you put the ball anywhere near him, Escobar will come down with it. The Patriots thrive in this set-up and Dallas now has the TE pieces to produce similar results.
Another change we will see is Callahan’s desire to always gain positive yards. He is known to utilize every receiver he has on the field, including dumping off to the running back. The key is getting positive yards, be it 2, 3, or 10.
By maximizing the plays that end with positive movement, the offense reduces future yardage needs. This allows the full playbook to stay open and continues to foster unpredictability.
A final improvement is the switch to more of a zone-blocking scheme across the o-line. If this is the reality, I can’t overstate how huge that will be.
When Dallas lines their o-linemen head up on a defender to blow the line off the ball, they will often be stonewalled.
There are few linemen on this team that excel in the power game. Tyron Smith, Ronald Leary, and Travis Federick may be the only ones I can think of.
Dallas is full of linemen with the agility to secure blocks on the move using angles.
This is exactly how the Denver Broncos’ offensive lines of the late 90’s and early 2000’s continually dominated in rushing with smaller, agile linemen. They created effective blocking angles that resulted in power rushing.
Major coaching changes throughout the Cowboys’ staff will positively alter many aspects of camp. Dallas is set to revamp the way they play both offense and defense. Not only will we see a new 4-3 defense, but formations and responsibilities will adapt to the offense.
Part of the reason Dallas has failed to get over the 8-8 hump and make the playoffs is trying to fit square pegs in round holes. The last 2 years the interior o-line was asked to blow defenders off the ball and they just weren’t capable of that.
The fullback was tasked to pave the way for DeMarco Murray yet he already had defenders crossing the line of scrimmage. Tony Romo was left to orchestrate an offense with little threat of a rushing attack and also scrambling for his life from the pocket.
On the defensive side of the ball, Dallas’ greatest rushing weapons were either far off the ball at OLB, or responsible to read the play first and then react.
By positioning DeMarcus Ware, Jay Ratliff, and Anthony Spencer right over the ball to blast the line of scrimmage, the defense is maximizing their greatest threats.
The most important change will be the fire added to camp energy. With Kiffin and Marinelli comes boatloads of passion and vocal interaction. Now Garrett spreads his time across the entire team during practice and will display his commitment to coaching the Dallas Cowboys.
Sure there are still many question marks and concerns as usual heading into camp. Yet this camp provides a true air of promise for advancement. There is no doubt this will be a great change from recent camps, and a welcome positive boost to the culture of the team.