Back to Normal
For fans and media alike, the task for the 2014 Cowboys is simple: go back to being who you were in 2014 when you won the NFC East crown and a home playoff game. With nine-of-11 starters from the banner year reprising their roles, and the two newcomers in second-year left guard La'el Collins and rookie running back Ezekiel Elliott markedly better than their predecessors, getting back to the winning ways should be a piece of cake. However, quarterback Tony Romo elaborates on how the team has moved on from '14.
Said Romo: "I think more than anything you’re always evolving. I think you’re constantly trying to find out what kind of team you’re going to have in that specific year. If we have certain individuals who are playing at a very high level, we’re going to do more things to put them in a position to be successful play in, play out. You just learn through the off-season, through camp A.
What guys are difficult to defend in what type of situations and then also what type of runs we block well; we read well as a back; stuff that puts pressure on the defense with two- or three-way go where they’ve got to defend multiple things in one play. There’s a lot of things that go into that. But it takes shape through the off-season and going into training camp every year."
Okay -- even if we accept Romo's premise that you have to start from the foundation, there are a few leaf prints and cat tracks in the cement, what with Romo coming off a twice-broken collarbone that sidelined him for 12 games and receiver Dez Bryant rehabbing from a broken right foot that cost him seven games and hobbled him for the nine he did play. While Romo has been a full-go since off-season workouts commenced, Bryant has been held back by the coaching staff to take a more "deliberate" approach. The results are the same: star quarterback and star wideout have not had time together.
"Timing and everything is going to be fine," the four-time Pro Bowler said. "It’s really more about him just getting back to feeling normal running, 10 straight routes at full speed vs. press, having to use his hands to get off and keep your feet when there’s very small space because the DB now has his arm on your right shoulder and you’ve got to cut. Your feet are in the wrong position, can you get back to a square base and then cut. And then still keep your balance and then the ball’s on its way. Now you’ve got to get your hands, he needs to contest the catch at the point, can you be strong. Those are all the little things it takes coming back, more so than timing with me."
Romo Wednesdays in 2016
One of the ingredients for success in 2014, a season where Romo played 15 games after a discectomy in the off-season, was having the then 34-year-old quarterback take Wednesdays off. The results spoke for themselves as Romo led the Cowboys to a 12-4 record and the aforementioned division title. In 2015, as beneficial as they were, the common thinking was "Romo Wednesdays" would fade away, much like crutches for a patient who has recovered from their sprained ankle.
Instead, Romo Wednesdays remained in 2015. Therefore, the question becomes: will they persist in 2016, a full two years after the discectomy?
"We haven’t had that discussion yet," Romo said. "Obviously the effectiveness is that it allows you during the season to continue to build the areas that can be, like I’ve said, I’m always going to have to deal with strengthening the back and that area. It’s gotten stronger, there’s no question about that. I’ve been able to work much harder at it. At the same time, you can’t disregard the history. So we’ll have a good, long discussion and we’ll probably toy with it in camp and really it will be based on the feeling of throwing the football each day."
Safety Sophomore Sensation
The athleticism of '15 first-round defensive back Byron Jones has allowed the Cowboys to rethink their secondary Initially taken as a possible replacement for either cornerbacks Brandon Carr or Morris Claiborne, Jones' athleticism has allowed him to scoot back to the safety position, bumping out incumbent J.J. Wilcox for the free safety spot opposite seventh-year Barry Church.
"One of the things that impresses you the most about him is not only his athletic ability but how he can be functional with it on the football field doing different things," Garrett said. "He’s learning every day. He’s going about it the right way. He works very hard. He embraces the opportunity and you do see some of that athleticism show up. He’s still learning the position and the more and more he goes, the more experience he gets, I think you’re going to see more and more of that athleticism both as a pass defender and as a run defender."
Though Jones failed to record an interception or a fumble in his rookie season, he had eight passes defended along with holding Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski to four catches for 67 yards, Gronk's lowest season total to that point and sixth-lowest for 2015. Dallas is hoping Jones increases his lockdown play along with nabbing a few loose balls.
Father and Son
Whether on NFL Network or elsewhere, three-time Super Bowl champ Michael Irvin refers to Bryant as "my son," an obvious connection since both players sport the number 88.
On Thursday, after the last practice at Valley Ranch, "Daddy Irvin" got a chance to have a heart-to-heart with "Sonny Dez."
Said The Playmaker: "I think last year was a great, great, great experience, not on output and everything but on levels of understanding and what it takes all of that and Dez will tell you that himself and not just from Dez’s perspective, but from also the feeling and the atmosphere of moving into a season. That’s very important and now everybody is back on the track of feeling like something can happen here, something can happen here. Going into last season, with all the situations going on in the off-season, that wasn’t the feeling and I just feel like it feels good."
With a take like that, one would have to be inclined with Irvin that, "it feels good to be a Cowboys fan again."
"[Bryant] has his quarterback back there and he’ll be fine," the Hall-of-Famer, class of '07 said. "I know he’s looking for a great year, with all those things going into the season. That will be the big difference. Knowing you’re structurally good, he’ll be good. Knowing you’re strong enough to do certain things, you’ll be good. Getting yourself to say you’re free enough to do all things is the key and you got to feel that."
In Trouble for D-Law
Third-year defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence has appealed his four-game suspension. Now, the Cowboys front office plays the waiting game as judge, jury, and executioner Roger Goodell waits until the right auspices to announce his decision.
Source inside Valley Ranch tell us the league will "tell you when they tell you." The staff is aware of the situation. As of right now, the club is preparing to be without their leading-sacker from last year for four weeks while also hoping that they will have him for the full 16 games. Whatever the ruling, be sure to follow our man Fish @fishsports for the latest and breaking news on America's Team.
Garrett is not only the eighth quarterback in the history of the Cowboys, but he is one of 39 quarterbacks to have started for the club. The Cowboys mean a lot to Garrett too in the context the club employed his father as a scout for many years. When asked how he felt to know that his father, the great Jim Garrett, saw him as a player and also a head coach for the premier team in pro football, Coach Process showed a little emotion.
"That's a hard question for me to answer right now. ... It's very meaningful. It's very meaningful to all of us. Football has been a big part of our lives. And certainly part of my life growing up and my brothers' lives growing up. And my dad probably more than anything else instilled a passion for football in all of us and all the people that he came in contact with. So, it's a special day."
For a career backup who first came to Dallas in 1992, 24 years has flown by.
Said Garrett: "Yeah. I think life goes by quickly. It's one of the things we try to remind our team every day is to embrace the opportunity that we have, to wake up every morning and do something that we love to do. It's a privilege to play and coach for the Dallas Cowboys in the National Football League. When you're doing something that you love to do, it goes by quickly. So, make sure you embrace it."