* FRISCO, Texas – *Competition.
Get used to it. You are going to hear that word, competition, over and over and over again as the Cowboys head toward rookie minicamp, OTAs, the full squad minicamp and into training camp.
In fact, if you’ve been paying attention, you’ve been hearing almost every time anyone in this organization has been talking, from Jerry Jones to Stephen Jones to Jason Garrett to Rod Marinelli to Will McClay to even some of the players, the word competition.
And this is a good thing. A real good thing for this 59th edition of the Dallas Cowboys in 2018.
See, the last thing you want to occur is have your team go stale – to grow complacent – and until the past couple of weeks the Cowboys were susceptible to those symptoms. I mean, think about it. Here is a franchise that, once it emerged from that morass of 8-8 three straight seasons, went 12-4, 4-12, 13-3 and 9-7. That’s three winning seasons in four years, but … only two postseason appearances and just one playoff victory.
Beware the mold.
And I’ve seen it before, back in 2010 when, after four consecutive winning seasons but little postseason success, the Cowboys went flat. There was no juice. Nothing to get excited about going into that season. Almost a laissez faire attitude, like, oh well, here we go again, and that cost Wade Phillips his job. And while there were mitigating circumstances for the four-win drop from 2016 to 2017, to me, there was a chance the message would grow old. Sort of like when we don’t pay attention before takeoff on how to place those oxygen masks over our heads just in case.
Like, yeah, yeah.
Well, yeah, why do you think there was this coaching staff upheaval? There’s been 10 assistant coaching changes, including a new offensive line coach, wide receivers coach, quarterbacks coach, tight ends coach, linebackers coach, defensive backs/passing game coordinator coach, special teams coach, assistant special teams coach and a strength and conditioning coach addition.
That’s a lot. Continuity usually is great. But at times, so is a new voice, players finding out they have to prove themselves all over again to their new position coach. That sweeps lackadaisical right out of the locker room.
And now this:
A roster turnover, dating back to the past two seasons, adding the likes of Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott, Maliek Collins, Jaylon Smith, Chidobe Awuzie, Jourdan Lewis, Xavier Woods, Anthony Brown, Kavon Frazier, Taco Charlton, Charles Tapper, Noah Brown, Cooper Rush and Rod Smith.
And the transformation will continue. Dez Bryant, an eight-year veteran, is gone. Jason Witten’s departure dangles precariously on a precipice after 15 years. Anthony Hitchens is gone. Orlando Scandrick was sent packing after 10 seasons. No more Justin Durant or Keith Smith. No more Jonathan Cooper or Brice Butler, James Hanna, Benson Mayowa, Kellen Moore (as a player) and Alfred Morris.
As I’ve said before, these are not Tony Romo’s Cowboys.
Very few veterans should feel entitled to start or to inherit roster spots, excluding the likes of Dak, Zeke, Tyron Smith, Sean Lee, Travis Frederick, Zack Martin, La’el Collins and DeMarcus Lawrence.
Everyone else, atten-hut: They had better be fighting their hind ends off to retain or gain starting positions, and for many more on what will eventually be a 90-man roster that uniform number on the eventual 53-man roster.
Because over the past three days the Cowboys either drafted or traded for 11 new players; had already signed like 15 veteran free agents with a chance to make this roster since early March; and will sign at least another 18 free-agent rookies over the next few days to reach their 90-man quota.
New-age Cowboys. Maybe, altered-age Cowboys.
“I’ve been banging that drum since I got here,” head coach Jason Garrett says of trying to organically and/or artificially create competition on his team.
“Now it’s more real.”
Darn sure is, and let’s take a look.
Start at quarterback. In the fifth-round the Cowboys selected Western Kentucky quarterback Mike White. Cooper Rush, pay attention, because COO Stephen Jones says, “We want (here comes that word) competition there … to have good competition at the quarterback position is a good thing.”
Darn right it is.
Now running back. Not only did the Cowboys select Alabama big-banger Bo Scarbrough in the seventh on Saturday, but they traded a mere sixth-rounder to take former first-round pick Tavon Austin off the Rams’ hands. They are calling him a “web-back.” To me, the guy the Rams never could figure out if he was a wide receiver or a running back, will be that toy-back I’ve been asking for. Third-down type. Outside speed. Can go down field as a receiver. So beware Rod Smith and Trey Williams.
“It’s real important for us, in terms of adding some juice to our offense,” Jones says of the Austin acquisition.
See for adding competition, too.
Fullback is not immune. That means you Jamize Olawale. I’m hearing the Cowboys are moving a slimmed-down Lewis Neal to fullback. Do not take anything for granted.
Then wide receiver. Oh boy, wide receiver. No Dez, and now the five or six receiver jobs are wide open, with a field so crowded, the Cowboys were enticed to trade last year’s fourth-round pick Ryan Switzer when the Raiders came calling with third-year defensive tackle Jihad Ward. Because the Cowboys added Michael Gallup in the third round and Cedrick Wilson in the seventh, not to mention Austin’s dimension. Then there were the additions of free agents Allen Hurns and Deonte Thompson, with Lance Lenoir having been lurking on the practice squad all last season. Beware Terrence Williams, Cole Beasley and Noah Brown. Don’t be taking anything for granted.
Now same on the offensive line, the Cowboys taking local-guy Connor Williams in the second round, an All-America offensive tackle at Texas being moved to guard to accommodate his shorter arms. If he is good enough to start at left guard as a rookie, then Collins can remain at right tackle, leaving free-agent Cameron Fleming battling Chaz Green for the backup swing tackle job and free-agent guard Marcus Martin fighting for a job.
Tight end, too, and they may not be finished, especially if Witten goes through with his retirement this week to join ESPN in the booth. The Cowboys added in the fourth-round Stanford complete tight end Dalton Shultz to Geoff Swaim and Blake Jarwin. Rico Gathers, time to shine or else, especially if the Cowboys find a veteran on the soon expanding free-agent heap.
As for the defensive line, with the addition of Ward, Kony Ealy, coveted fourth-round defensive end Dorance Armstrong and a healthy Tapper, then David Irving better mind his Ps and Qs, and them others, like Tyrone Crawford, Maliek Collins and Taco Charlton, will be fighting for starting jobs, while a host of others no more than backup roster spots.
Love it, love it.
As for linebacker, first-round pick Leighton Vander Esch will catch the attention of at least Damien Wilson, last year’s strong-side starter. Because if the strapping 6-4, 256-pound Vander Esch does more than earn a share spot with Lee and Jaylon Smith, meaning win the starting middle linebacker spot, thus kicking Smith to the strong side, Wilson might be no more than a backup, leaving Joe Thomas and Justin March-Lillard fighting for roster spots with sixth-round pick Chris Covington.
And there sure will be competition in the secondary for starting jobs. With Byron Jones moving to corner, then you have Awuzie, Lewis and Brown as your top four battling for basically three starting spots. At safety, for the time being, it’s Jeff Heath and Frazier probably at strong, with the Cowboys right now banking on Woods claiming the free spot – providing he plays well enough back there from this day forward to prevent the Cowboys from shopping for a veteran.
See what I mean? That’s a lot of jobs up for grabs on a team that’s had a winning record in three of the past four seasons and only one losing season in the last seven.
Like, most everyone, on your toes.
Why, just the other day defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli bent my ear talking about the competition he foresees on his defensive front and at linebacker and in the secondary, with unbridled enthusiasm.
Jason and Stephen, and now even Jerry, are going on and on about upcoming battles, as if they cherish the thought.
Repeat, on your toes. That’s helps a team get better while working to prevent the dreaded creeping complacency.
This all should have been made clear these past two months. Like, come on, if you aren’t a Tyron Smith or Lee or Dak or Zeke, then aren’t you saying to yourself, Holy cow, if the Cowboys are willing to cut veterans like Scandrick and Dez, if they are willing to let Butler and Morris and Hitchens just walk away in free agency, then I had better kick it in gear every day of the week from this day forward. Because if they’ll do that to those guys, they sure as hell will kick little ol’ me to the curb.
So, to me, logically, if the Cowboys’ intention after the disappointing season was to get everyone’s attention in their effort to improve, then I’d say, attention gotten.
Hut-hut, as Drew Pearson is known to bark.