Bradie James has led the Dallas Cowboys in tackles the past six seasons. He is a defensive captain and a team leader. He played 920 of a possible 977 plays last season.
So it was different seeing the nine-year veteran standing on the Cowboys Stadium sideline last week, helmet in hand.
James played only one play against the Buffalo Bills, and it was the play in which the Cowboys were penalized for 12 players on the field.
Yet, James never once complained.
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Though he might not be happy with his role, James has accepted it for the greater good.
"I think we have enough veteran guys. We've been around each other so long to where we understand where we are as a team, and what we need to do, what we need to accomplish," James said. "What we're trying to accomplish is to be great. In order to be great, you've got to be selfless. You have to win. Whether you have to accept a role, whether you're on this package or that package, it's time for us to win no matter what. That's what we're trying to accomplish here."
James exemplifies the 2011 Cowboys.
They have 53 players who, so far, have been willing to do whatever is asked, including taking lesser roles.
Alan Ball made 16 starts at free safety last season. He has made only two starts at cornerback this season after moving back to his natural position.
Running back Felix Jones returns this week after a four-game absence to be a complementary back to rookie DeMarco Murray.
Inside linebacker Keith Brooking, like James, has lost playing time to Sean Lee this season. Brooking is averaging only 30 plays a game after averaging 57 last season.
Marcus Spears became a starting defensive end almost as soon as the Cowboys drafted him in the first round in 2005. But he has shared starts with Jason Hatcher this season.
"It goes back to having the right kind of guys on your team, understanding that every move that we're making, we're trying to make it for the good of the Dallas Cowboys," coach Jason Garrett said. "We're trying to make the decisions to put people in the right place to help us win games, and I think everybody understands that. We try to treat everyone fairly and with respect and try to explain as best we can what their role may or may not be. I think if you have the right kind of guys on your team, I think they respond accordingly."
The Cowboys have been a team free of distraction and controversy thus far. They seem to enjoy each other's company, for the most part, and appear devoid of trouble-makers, complainers, whiners and pot-stirrers.
Even when quarterback Tony Romo's turnovers cost his team in losses to the New York Jets and the Detroit Lions, the Cowboys' defense stood behind him.
"It's one of those teams that, through good or bad times, continues to stay together," Romo said. "It's very easy in the National Football League when something bad happens or there's adverse situations to get in little circles and talk, and this team doesn't do that. These guys are committed to each other, and I think are excited about each of the people around them, and we just trust each other. It starts in your relationships and grows over the years."
The Cowboys grew into a team -- and maybe something of a family -- during the lockout. Team leaders, including Romo, Jason Witten and DeMarcus Ware, organized well-attended workouts in Southlake.
And Garrett has given players ownership of their team. Players have had the past two Mondays off from team activities, allowing position leaders to organize game-film reviews.
"It started with getting the workouts together and having the mentality of us coming together and taking some ownership with this group," Witten said. "I think Jason and his staff do a great job of incorporating that, giving guys an opportunity to lead and allowing it to be your team out there on the field. We're a close group."
Garrett also has made sure to involve every player, including practice squad players, in everything the team does. Every win is celebrated with awards outside the locker room, including scout team player of the week and special teams "attaboys."
"They hear me say this a lot: It takes everybody," Garrett said. "You have to be great. If your role is on scout team, you have to be great on scout team. You're not only helping yourself get better, you're helping our football team get better. Whenever I refer to or we refer to our team, we're talking about 61 guys, our entire staff, our entire football operation. Everybody's got a piece in it."