OXNARD, Calif. – An added preseason game can be a luxury as the Cowboys work out the mechanics of a new play-calling system.
Offensive coordinator Bill Callahan cherished the extra time as he sat in the booth as the Cowboys’ official play-caller for the first time during Sunday’s Hall of Fame Game, communicating onto the field to quarterbacks coach Wade Wilson and the rest of the staff.
“It’s simple, it’s very clear, it’s very fast,” Callahan said of the play-calling. “I think Wade does a tremendous job, just being able to communicate down. It’s been really positive.”
The quarterbacks have wristbands with numbers to keep plays quick and easy, but Callahan said the Cowboys also call plays that aren't on the bands when they so choose. He said the more the Cowboys can repeat calls in the new system in pressure situations, the better the team will execute when the games really matter.
As the Cowboys attempt to figure out their best combinations of players to put on the field, they’re also figuring out the best way to communicate plays. Nothing is static or set in stone.
“We’re refining everything,” Callahan said. “We have a little AAR Report afterward. It’s like a feedback report, what the military calls an After Action Report. We just go through what went on throughout the game and how we can clean things up. Someone may have an idea about, ‘Hey, we think this might be a better way of communicating, a better way of substituting.’ We do that.”
Callahan complimented the entire offensive staff for how the flow of the play-calling went. He thought the mechanics worked really well and appreciated the contributions from all the staff members involved.
Garrett said it actually felt great not to have to call plays for the first time as the Cowboys’ head coach and agreed that the rhythm and communication was great throughout the day. He said the staff functioned really well together, but there are still corrections that need to be made.
“We’ve just got to keep cleaning that stuff up,” Garrett said. “For me, it was a little bit different because I wasn’t directly involved. But again, like everything else we’ve been doing this offseason, it allows me to kind of step back and coach the whole team. I’ve always tried to do that, but when you’re calling plays during a game, you’re occupied doing that as well.”
Garrett said Callahan did a great job, and while there are still fixes that need to be made, the head coach thought the mix and mechanics of the play calls worked well. Garrett has delegated the play-calling duties to Callahan, but he still stays involved, particularly between each series when there’s more time to communicate.
“I think the communication is constant really in all three phases,” Garrett said. “It always had been. When I was calling the plays and certainly the other night, you need to make sure we are all seeing the same things.”
The first live football game of the season with the new play-calling structure featured a heavy reliance on the running game, and it paid off as the Cowboys rushed for 170 yards and stuck to the ground game with 34 attempts. That marked a significant change from last season, when the Cowboys finished 31st in the league in rushing.
Callahan said he’ll always call plays that are in the best interest of the offense and the specific personnel on the field. That just so happened to be sticking to the running game Sunday night.
“We’re trying to format it where we can emphasize a certain aspect of the offense, but it can change based on who’s in, who’s not, who we want to evaluate, who we want to feature, who we want to look at, so it changes,” he said. “Especially in the preseason, because maybe you want to look at more 13 personnel, a little bit more 12 personnel, so that changes.”
It’s important to Callahan that the team properly assesses what each player does best and if the results during the game are what the coaches thought would happen going in.
“If it’s not, then we go back and tweak it,” he said.
Garrett liked the way the Cowboys stuck with the run as it continued to work, and he believes the mechanics of the play-calling process will get cleaner with each game that passes.
There didn’t appear to be much confusion within the offense, as the Cowboys finished the day without a delay of game penalty. Callahan and the offensive staff made it a point to stick to a fruitful running game, which subsequently led to a successful run-through in the offensive coordinator’s first game as the team’s official play-caller.
“It’s fun to see our guys have success,” Callahan said. “I thought the other night we want to improve the running game, so coming out of the tunnel and establishing the run and trying to create that mindset and that mentality that’ll carry over to the season, that’s being formulated now in training camp.
“It just gives us an opportunity to say that these are the techniques, these are the schemes, here are the answers and the solutions, let’s get better at it, fellas. Everything we’re doing is repeat, get better, emphasis. I liked the fact that we had those opportunities to run it a little bit more in the last game, so the carry-over effect coming into the next game will only get better.”