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Spagnola: As The Cowboys Play-Calling World Turns


IRVING, Texas – Funny story, at least I thought so.

         You might have heard, but the 10th and final day of OTAs on Thursday turned into Cowboys U, a football camp for area inner-city high school players out here at The Ranch where the Cowboys players turn into coaches and an eight-team, seven-on-seven touch football round-robin tournament breaks out.

         Well, DeMarcus Ware was one of the head coaches, and each of the head coaches draft teammates to assist them. As the story goes, Ware's first six selections were defensive teammates and then Cowboys offensive guard Nate Livings, probably since in seven-on-seven football there is no need for any offensive line expertise, and even more so since the hiking to the quarterback is a simple underhand toss with the center facing the quarterback and everyone is eligible to go out.

         Makes sense, except for one huge problem for Team Ware, the exact same one that a few days earlier the Dallas Cowboys, as only they can, managed to turn into a national crisis:

         Who in the heck is going to call the offensive plays?

         "Nate had to call the plays," explained Cowboys U commissioner Jason Garrett, laughing out loud probably at the irony, "and then all the defensive guys wanted to call plays."

         Heck yeah, everyone wants to call plays, and if we can even create thicker irony, guess who called the plays for the championship U team that ran a hurry-up, no-huddle offense to victory?

         Uh, that would be Tony Romo for Team Romo. Maybe all that "extra" work in the film room is paying off, and maybe we're on to something the first week of June.

         Seriously, this is the gospel truth. Couldn't make this stuff up, and wouldn't since who the heck would believe me. Er, maybe I should take that back since we're dealing with the Dallas Cowboys, you know suddenly transforming in the minds of many from nationally acclaimed America's Team to now Team Dysfunctional.

         Never boring out here at The Ranch, right? Like only the Dallas Cowboys in June of all months could grab front-page attention away from the Texas Rangers giving up 17 runs that same night in Boston, having to finish with an outfielder in the bottom of the eighth, who turned in their best pitching performance of the game. Only the Cowboys could force Dr. Tony Bosch's reported PED cooperation with MLB into Page 2 news.

         Somewhere, guarantee you, Tex Schramm is smiling, the NFL's original Barnum, or was it Bailey who figured out a half-century ago to do whatever it takes to keep 'em talking about you, good, bad or otherwise.

         Jerry Jones learned from the master, and was a natural from the start. Jerry knows how to create as much attention as he has money. Some intentionally to keep that Star out there, some accidently. Can't tell you how many times Jerry has tipped someone off about something, sometimes knowingly for good reason and sometimes unwittingly, to the point – and he knows it, and so do the kids – that if you want to keep a secret out here, better not tell dad.

         That's why when I've been asked over the past couple of days, "When will Jerry ever learn?" it's like, seriously, he's been at this 24 years now, and nothing has changed. Why now? Good thing this latest funnel to set down in North Texas swirled on but a football field.

         Nevertheless, all the crack psycho-analysts have put up their shingles, crowing to no end how the Cowboys owner has cut off the legs from under his head coach; insisting Garrett no longer has the respect of his players; how anarchy will reign once everyone lands in Oxnard, Calif., on July19 for the start of camp.

         At ease.

         Look, when it comes right down to it, all Jerry did was imply the obvious, pointing out to inquiring media minds what they had been watching for three weeks of OTAs: offensive coordinator/offensive line coach Bill Callahan handing the plays to the quarterbacks during these non-contact, pre-scripted practices while Garrett stood back overseeing the big picture. Man, like throwing filet to lions, finally evidence to sink their teeth into.

         By the way, exactly what most fans and media members have been screaming for since the second of consecutive 8-8 seasons: Let Callahan call the plays and Garrett become the overseer, and I guess it's because the Cowboys have only been able to outscore what they have given up over Garrett's 40-game head coaching reign (21-19 record) by just less than a point-a-game average, 24.45 to 23.7.

         Which by the way, compares most favorably to the last three NFC East champs over the past 40 games when it comes to record, points scored and points against: The Redskins (17-23), 21.8-24.3; the Giants (22-18) 25.8-25.75; and the Eagles (17-23) 21.2 to 24.2.

         The Cowboys just don't have that hardware to show for their effort over that span as the others do.

         And just so you know the facts, instead of the perceived ones, here is what happened this past Tuesday after Jerry told the media they ought to be able to figure out how this play-calling is going to work by watching these OTA practices, saying, "You can get a pretty good idea of how it's going out there and you can see Bill getting very involved in what we're doing out there."

         OK, then that opened the door for the media to run to Callahan, who had no idea what Jones had said, telling him the owner/GM said he would be calling plays and how do you feel about that? Unwittingly, after much tap-dancing about how the structure of game plans is a collaborative effort, Callahan finally said, "I'm flattered to be part of this and to take on the added responsibilities of calling the plays during the course of a game."

         That then opened the next door for Garrett to be asked his thoughts for the umpteenth time this offseason on just who would be calling plays since Jerry said, and then Callahan said, of course the assumption being Garrett was being blindsided with the revelation at his press conference later that day. Ah, but everyone should know better, quarterbacks, even ex-quarterbacks, like mothers, have eyes in the back of their heads.

         Garrett knew what Jones had implied, and had decided, un-uh, not to get into it on Tuesday, because if he had, then that answer would have led to the next question and the next question and before it would have been over with, this very easily would have been pitted as a Jerry vs. Jason ordeal.

         So Garrett, unlike Wade Phillips, who would try to squirm out of these uncomfortable situations by meekly, while trying to be funny, saying, "Whatever Jerry says …" took the high road, deflecting the questions and thus not getting into any kind of debate until he decided to get into the debate on his own terms.

         Garrett, rather firmly said he knows how this play-calling is going to work, but preferred not to discuss it at this time, saying, "We're working our way through practice right now. We have a plan, and no real comment about that."

         Then he was told Jones confirmed a decision had been made, that Callahan would be the play-caller, to which Garrett said, "Yeah, we have a plan in place and we're just going to continue to proceed, we just finished OTA Day 8 today, and that's what we're focused on and will continue to focus on going forward.

         "We certainly have a plan and we've had a plan in place for a long time."

         Then two questions later, when confronted with, "So if your boss (wants to talk about it) and says your offensive coordinator is going to be calling plays and you don't want to talk about it, how should we draw our conclusions about that."

         Cleverly sneaky since conclusions already had been drawn in many a mind anyway, but aw shucks coach, if you would just help us out with our job and …

         Come on, the guy went to Princeton, he's too smart to fall for that old media trick, Garrett saying, "Yeah, what my job is, is to do what's in the best interest of the Dallas Cowboys and how I proceed every day and that's how I answer every question, so again, um, we're focused on what we're doing here with the Dallas Football Cowboys today in OTA Day 8. We have a plan in place and we will continue to proceed with that plan."

         In other words, feels no real compulsion to let the rest of the league know just how the Cowboys will proceed offensively, or for every opponent to gain a head start researching Callahan's play-calling tendencies, if indeed he is going to have a free hand in calling plays. Ha, wouldn't it be something if Garrett and Callahan, come game day, put the play sheet in front of their headset mics, disguising just who is actually in Romo's ear.

         Wouldn't it be something if Romo is allowed to call some of his own stuff during 11-on-11 just as he did so successfully during his team-leading 7-on-7 championship Thursday out here? And if you consider the success the Cowboys had the last couple of seasons when forced into the end-of-the-half or end-of-the-game hurry-up offense, why not incorporate some of that into a less-frantic series.

         And if you think about it, going a little more no-huddle using "12 personnel" – one running back, two tight ends – would keep defenses from being able to readily adjust personnel, not ever knowing if two tights means a heavier running emphasis or if the Cowboys will use the tight ends to create maybe even a four-receiver set if you consider the downfield route-running ability of Jason Witten, James Hanna, Gavin Escobar and even the recently-added Dante Rosario, who also has ability to line up as an H-back (glorified fullback), too.

         So bottom line on this play-calling hubbub: Is this the right move?

         The jury still is out. If changing who makes the call to [embedded_ad]

Romo or allowing Romo more leeway to call his own plays works, meaning the Cowboys are more efficient offensively in the red zone, if they can run more efficiently and run for more than the 13 touchdowns they have totaled in the last two years – and that's a rather humble total for just one year – then heck yeah, great move.

         If not, well, we'll be having this exact discussion same time next year.

         And be closely watching who is calling plays for next year's Cowboys U champs just in case.

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