When Dallas Cowboys coach Jason Garrett talks about having the right kind of guys on his football team he is invariably talking about guys with the right kind of football character.
Guys who practice hard. Guys who play hard. Guys who are accountable to their teammates. Guys who are selfless in their approach.
That usually translates to good off-the-field character as well.
That doesn’t mean that mistakes won’t be made.
But rather than suggest that Garrett is being a hypocrite in the wake of defensive end David Irving’s four-game suspension for unknowingly ingesting a banned supplement in February and cornerback Nolan Carroll inexcusably being arrested for driving while intoxicated Monday, consider that this Cowboys team may fit its coach’s “right kind of guy” mold more than any other he’s ever had.
Receiver Dez Bryant is more excited about this Cowboys team more than any other that he’s been a part of since 2010 partly because that there has been 100 percent participation by every one since the beginning of the voluntary offseason program.
Per Bryant, that’s never happened during a time of the year when former Cowboys linebacker Darren Hambrick’s words ring loud and clear: “What do voluntary mean?”
“It’s totally different. It just shows that you want it – you want it more than the next guy,” Bryant said. “Guys around here want it to be contagious. I know for myself...I plan to be in rare condition. I mean that. That’s my goal, and I feel like that’s everybody else’s goal – is to be better than last year. We’ve got a lot of great building blocks from last year. It’s nothing to sit on, it’s how can we move forward and get better? How can we take that next step? I feel like we’re doing that in the offseason by doing things that we don’t have to do.”
Quarterback Dak Prescott is seeing the same thing Bryant is seeing. Guys are 100 percent committed. Guys are working. Guys are bonding. And he believes it should payoff in terms of winning games next season.
“We are headed in the right direction,” Prescott said. “At the end of the day, everybody is getting in and getting extra work. People will be here hours after the practice is done, getting their body right, working out , watching film, hanging out with each other at lunch. It’s everything you want to see in a team, just growing together as we are in this critical time. Games are won right now. So I think we are headed in the right direction.”
The Cowboys usually have high attendance every offseason because of many of the players live in the area. Guys who don’t live in Dallas-Fort Worth in the offseason make it a point to show up.
But it’s also a sign of Garrett’s messages and mantras resonating in the locker room as well as the front office.
“They’re the right kind of guys,” Garrett said. “We have guys who care about football, care about this football team and care about getting better – and that’s a manifestation of that. And I know they do a lot of work on their own together prior to the start of the offseason program and that’s important too. We have a lot of guys who care a great deal about football and making this football team great and that’s what our team makes up of.”
And that is what Garrett is talking about. Guys who care about football and care about the team. That is what he has now more than ever.
It’s about lesson’s learned.
The Rolando McClains of the world will no longer get a pass from owner Jerry Jones to skip the off season program to supposedly spend time with his family.
It’s also about competition and an understanding that you can be replaced.
Cornerback Orlando Scandrick has missed the off season program in past years to work out with his trainer in Los Angeles. He was here 100 percent of the time last season to rehab with from knee surgery.
The drafting of three cornerbacks has him present and ready to fight for his job this offseason.
But that’s part of it.
Same with receiver Lucky Whitehead, who is possibly on the chomping block in training camp after the drafting of punt return specialist Ryan Switzer in wake of a couple of off-the-field blunders in 2016 as well as his lack of on-field-field impact.
Bryant singled Whitehead out for praise.
“I have to give him props because Lucky has taken this whole entire off season so serious,” Bryant said. “He has been unbelievable. A lot of credit goes to him. It goes to show you that guys are really paying attention.”
Irving and Carroll are unfortunate missteps in a process that never claimed to be 100 percent infallible.
Carroll’s situation is most troublesome because of the intoxication manslaughter conviction of former defensive tackle Josh Brown in the wake of the 2012 car wreck that killed teammate Jerry Brown.
The Cowboys are standing by Carroll for now because his history says this was out of character. But what’s also true is that he longer gets the benefit of the doubt on the field or off the field. Never mind that he signed a three-year, $10 million contract to join the Cowboys in March, the incident and most likely two-game suspension by NFL has set him up to be released in training camp if truly not one of the top players at a position that has been overhauled rookies and new blood.
More importantly and more than ever the right kind of guys are paying attention and listening to Garrett in the Cowboys locker room.
Again, People make mistakes. Players will continue to make mistakes.
And if they make too many, they will be gone.
But there is a difference between a bad guy and a guy who makes a mistake.
And when you are looking at a team filled with guys with the right kind of football character, Garrett and the Cowboys appear to be batting 100 percent in the voluntary off season program.