Linebacker Rolando McClain and defensive end Greg Hardy are eligible to return to the Dallas Cowboys on Monday following their four-game suspensions and team officials are surprisingly open about the injection boost the two standouts figure to give this team, in terms of talent and emotion.
“We anticipate those guys being back and ready to go,” coach Jason Garrett said on Friday.
But wait … why in the world is this coach — not to mention his bosses, Jerry and Stephen Jones — so open about even the existence of two guys who, according to the tradition of football psychology, should not be acknowledged at all?
The Cowboys, 2-1 but maybe reeling from a come-from-ahead loss to Atlanta last week, are at the New Orleans Saints on Sunday night. (See our "Advanced-Stats Notebook'' here and our "Cowboys 100'' coverage here.) The focus simply must be here in The Big Easy and here only, and maybe the final score against a wobbly Drew Brees and his crew will establish that it was. I can tell you there was a combination of firmness, poise and looseness from the coaching staff this week. To wit:
*Firm? Garrett offered up some terse lecture-style moments in his dealings with the media, on and off the record, in trying to establish his territory as a decision-maker.
*Poised? Defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli offered up a life philosophy that he surely shared with players this week. "You have a choice -- poise or panic,'' Rod said. "I always choose poise.''
*Loose? I spotted special-teams coordinator Rich Bisaccia on the practice field late in the week. The pump-in music (meant to simulate the noise inside the Superdome) was “Superfreak.’’ Bisaccia was dancing to the music.
I later told Rich, “I saw it and now I cannot un-see it.’'
Responded Bisaccia: “Hey, I was a big Rick James guy, what can I say?’'
What the Cowboys can say is that they are firm and loose (if that’s possible) and poised as well. Yet I have a slight concern that they are leaning on the return of Monday’s guys (Hardy and McClain) and then another crop of returnees after that (Dez Bryant and Randy Gregory and eventually Tony Romo) and that the lean on Monday and beyond might lure them away from what must be leaned on on Sunday night.
Not to say the organization (and the rest of us, led by KD Drummond) shouldn't be considering the eventual roster-juggling. But ... Almost always in football, coaches decline to discuss players who aren’t available to the team. It seems cruel, but “out of sight/out of mind’’ is the tried-and-true manner. Same with, “You can’t make the club from the tub,’’ a tough-guy mantra that urges injured players to get out of the training room and onto the field. (We saw a scary example of this recently when, in the locker room after the Week 3 Atlanta game, Jeremy Mincey revealed to me that the concussion he sustained came in warmups before the Week 2 win at Philly - with Mincey opting on his own to participate in the game without alerting team medical staff.)
But McClain can’t get on the field. Not until Monday begins with early-morning meetings at Valley Ranch in preparation for next week’s visit from New England. But at least the standout linebacker can be in the building, and was last week, working in the weight room on Wednesday.
Hardy? He can’t be in the building at all. (McClain’s was a drug suspension, Hardy’s a domestic-violence-related punishment and thus the difference — though in studying these two cases I can tell you that in regard to the rules there is much gray area here and too little etched in stone.) Hardy can be in contact with Dallas medical personnel, and has been.
Said Stephen Jones: “He feels good. The trainer is able to contact him to make sure he's feeling good. We have full expectation."
There is no argument about what McClain and Hardy are capable of doing. … though their personalities make it a mistake to lump them together, as we’ve all tended to do.
Over the course of about seven games last year McClain played like a Pro Bowler. But at other times, he was either banged up or semi-interested. He is a physical presence and a run-stopper and a playmaker and a force; Sean Lee tells me he’s excited to be teamed with McClain.
But McClain is also enigmatic. To commit to counting on him is a mistake — or at least would be if not for the fact that Anthony Hitchens has been solid as his replacement.
McClain is one of those “it’s-always-something’’ guys. He could show up Monday and launch a Pro Bowl-level campaign … or he could reflect on his crummy vet’s-minimum contract and take his ball and go home.
There’s not much chance of that with Hardy, considered among the top defensive ends in the game. He can hit a financial bonanza by playing well and during his time in training camp after the Cowboys’ highly-criticized free-agent signing of him, he was a ball of positive energy and a terrific match for a fellow All-Pro, Dallas tackle Tyron Smith. He's certainly won over Jerry Jones, who vows to "help'' him, just as Hardy won over Cowboys Nation in the summer, as explained in the video up-top.
When McClain issued his official apology, it read: “I apologize to my family, the Cowboys organization, my teammates and Cowboys fans for my mistake,” McClain said. “I will not break the rules of my profession in the future, and I regret my error. I look forward to returning to the field on week 5, when I hope to help my team beat the Patriots.”
Well-said ... because it's about NEXT week for these guys. Not THIS week.
In New Orleans, Dez and Romo can help the Cowboys via their sheer presence. But Hardy and McClain? Thinking they'll soon "come to the rescue" threatens to introduce a mindset of "needing to be rescued" - a terrible and dangerous Cowboys concept.