By Will Martin
Training Camps in the NFL are about to go full bore as we count down to the Hall Of Fame game in Canton Ohio with the Buffalo Bills and New York Giants on August 3.
The Dallas Cowboys arrived in Oxnard with camp getting more interactive as the week winds down.
Wednesday was the day we heard the state of the state of the perennial .500 team since 1997. Exactly 136-136 in that time span. 29-27 under Jason Garrett’s watch with perhaps more questions than answers on the defensive side of the ball in 2014.
Even so in what was almost a one hour presser Jerry Jones and Jason Garrett had a few topics that both were eager to address and discuss.
Jerry Jones led things off with a heartfelt condolence on the passing of Robert Newhouse, returning to Oxnard, about Kyle Orton, and of course whether or not Jason Garrett’s job was in jeopardy.
“I’ll be serious with you … no … in terms of the record of this team, this is not a make or break situation for Jason and members of this staff,” Jones said. “We’ve got a job to do. We obviously want to zero in on what we’re doing this afternoon and the next day and the next day.”
On the heels of three 8-8 seasons can we get a clarification?
“Well it’s just not necessarily a factor. It’s just not. The things that make the record will be under consideration, but not the record. Not the record, the numbers on the record,” Jones said. “That’s been the case, did the record of 8-8, 8-8, was that a factor? No. Principally it were other things that I’m proud of and that I think creates quite an asset for us. In my mind, he is more of an asset after this last 8-8 season than he was before the first 8-8 season we had three years ago.”
“I look at we had just had our team meeting a couple hours ago, and Coach Garrett led our, if you will, our goals and led what we’re going to be trying to accomplish beginning right today. But when I looked at that room, there are 90 players in there, and I think I counted 47 that hadn’t been in the room, and I may have it missed by one or two, but hadn’t been in that room, hadn’t been in a team room to start a training camp. We’ve never had more new faces, yet have the optimism that I have for those new faces, many of them are experienced veterans to some degree. Certainly, we’ve got our share of rookies and rookie free agents, but still, I’m very optimistic that we have a team that can come together “I’m not going to use that word you just used, just because I’m superstitious.”
Jason Garrett after the presser was unflappable in not being concerned about what he wants to do despite what the owner may or may not say.
“I really don’t think about it at all,” Garrett said. “We have so much to focus on as coaches to try to build this football team the way we want to build it. That’s where our focus is. That’s mean my focus since Day 1. It was my focus as a player – try to be the best player I can be each and every day. I certainly try to do that as a head coach of this team. I try to provide the leadership and guidance that everybody needs. That’s where my attention is, that’s where my focus is and that’s where it always has been.”
If you’re reading between the lines this will not be a make or break year for Coach Jason.
On Tony Romo:
“He has been working hard on his conditioning, on his throwing and we do anticipate him being ready to go for all aspects,” Garrett said. “Like with anyone else coming off an injury, we evaluate him on a day by day basis and see how he is doing.”
On Robert Newhouse:
“He was outstanding, he was about football – you couldn’t look at that guy and not think about our game that we play, and he played it with every ounce of his heart,” Jones said.
On Pat Bowlen stepping down:
“He lived and breathed his job as a Denver Bronco … this is a sad day,” Jones said.
On the possible return to football for Josh Brent:
“I do believe in paying your debt…paying the price,” Jones said. “To the extent that he does that, and I don’t have the information you would need to have to make that consideration, as far as Josh Brent is concerned, we have stood with Josh Brent from the very beginning and will continue. Josh Brent deserves an opportunity. He’s made a terrible mistake, knows it, I know firsthand has contrition. I know that, and so, yes, I’ll consider giving him an opportunity.”
The Cowboys owner continued.
“I think we’ve got to ask the other side of the question, is, ‘Do you get a chance to start over? Do we believe in paying your dues and getting a chance to start over?’ That’s the other side of that,” Jones said. “Principally, in this country, we believe in giving an opportunity to pay your dues and pay your penalties and move forward.”
Thoughts on Rolando McClain:
“I’m excited about Rolando McClain,” Garrett said. “Obviously, he played for Coach Saban at Alabama, and I went down there, I think it was maybe 2009, and he was a sophomore I believe at the time. I can remember being there for spring practice and Coach Saban just talking about how much he liked this kid, this big middle linebacker that he had, and he literally said to me at the time, ‘He might be one of the best players I’ve ever coached.’
“When a guy like that says that, he’s been around as long as he has and had so many good players, it kind of gets your attention. So I can remember watching him in college and certainly we evaluated him very closely coming out. He was a top 10 pick by the Raiders when he came out of school and someone who has an immense amount of ability, but more than that, production.”
If the Cowboys coach had any concerns about the abilities of a ballplayer who has had some off-field problems while retired you’re not going to hear it from Coach Garrett.
“I think people had a lot of hopes for him as a pro player, and certainly he’s had some issues since he’s been in the NFL,” Garrett said. “Played for a couple years, retired, unretired, and the research that we did, the due diligence that we did, both with Coach Saban and other people that have been around him, we felt like with his ability, with the kind of person he’s demonstrated himself to be in the past, maybe we can help him through some of these issues that he has and get this guy back playing at the level we all thought he was capable of playing.”
One question that will be addressed in Oxnard: Can McClain be the man to take on the middle linebacker position and spell Sean Lee while the Nittany Lion is on the mend?
“Sean Lee motivated me a little bit, the loss of him – period,” said Jerry Jones. “You take a No. 1 draft pick, you can say the same thing about a blue player, somebody thought he could play some football somewhere.
“I’ve known a lot of people – a lot of successful people – that quit and then got it together and turned it around and came back and really made something of what they quit, actually, in many cases. I’ve seen it happen several times in sports… I too have first-hand seen people that can work through things better than others. If they get it behind them, they can go on and be very productive.”
Dallas will remain in Oxnard until the 15th of August before coming home to play the Baltimore Ravens after leading things off with a road game in San Diego on August 7.
Romo’s health, the running game, Dez making top receiver money, Henry Melton and Brandon Carr stepping up to the next level, even Brandon Weeden as the backup will be some of the many questions to ponder as the Dallas Cowboys get ready for the 2014 season in Oxnard.