Sure, the Dallas Cowboys are in need of new leaders in 2018 following the departures of Jason Witten and Dez Bryant. But the biggest impact on their success may be the addition of new coaches and a back-to-the-fundamentals approach with a decidedly newer and younger team than they have had in years.
Per Vice President Stephen Jones, 45 of the 90 players on the roster were not on the team last year.
“Our team is really young,” coach Jason Garrett said. “We have three guys on our roster right now who are 30 years or older, we have a 30, a 31 and 37. That means we have 87 guys who are in their 20s and a lot of those guys in the 20s are 22, 23, 24.”
And of those three guys over the age of 30, two are deep snapper L.P. Ladouceur (37) and kicker Dan Bailey (30).
The other elder statesman is linebacker Sean Lee at 31.
Just ask grumpy defensive end Tyrone Crawford, who feels very old at 28 with all the noise from the millennials in the locker room, including nine rookie draft picks and 24 undrafted rookie free agents.
“We got a lot of young guys, a lot of rookies as well,” Crawford said. “It’s the biggest change as far as going young that I have seen since I have been here. It’s a lot of energy. A lot a talking. It’s a big gap between what they do and how they talk. We have to adapt to and get rolling again. I look around all the time. I see guys on the phones doing different things and listening to weird music I would never listen to.”
But Crawford respects them because they work on the field before coming back inside and getting on their phones and listening to weird music again.
The players are working hard but the youth, inexperience and an influx of newcomers have put more importance on coaching, teaching and fundamentals, especially during organized team activities than past years as they get them up to speed in the Cowboys way of doing things before minicamp and training camp.
“Well I think coaching is always important,” Garrett said. “We wouldn’t do this if we didn’t think it was important. But there’s some different challenges you have when you have younger players. Again you’re trying to introduce to them how we do things and what we do and then how we want them to do it. That’s a daily pursuit for us as coaches, position coaches making sure their guys are getting it done the right way.”
The team is especially young on offense where the oldest projected starter is tackle Tyron Smith, 27, and quarterback Dak Prescott, 24, is the undisputed leader.
But it also makes them fun, energetic and exciting.
“I wouldn’t say I’m one of the vet guys, but for Tyron to be our oldest guy on offense is pretty amazing and that’s pretty young in itself right there,” Prescott said. “It brings that energy, though. It allows us to come out there with a lot of juice, just having fun. Getting to know each other and getting more comfortable being with each other.
“But we’re definitely a team that we got a lot of new things to us, a lot of new weapons, a lot of new guys. We’re a young and excited team as I said earlier. We’re all excited about it. We’re coming in, we know we have a long way to go, but that’s the fun part about it. It’s knowing that and coming in each and every day trying to get one percent better.”
That puts the onus back on the coaches to get them where they want to go, which is also why the additions of receivers coach Sanjay Lal, offensive line coach Paul Alexander and secondary coach Kris Richard are most important.
All are considered technicians in the fundamentals at their position and key additions to a Cowboys staff with a young team in transition.
“Young — that is a pretty good description of us,” offensive coordinator Scott Linehan said. “Jason Witten wanted to be coached 15 years into it. It’s not like we didn’t coach those guys. But there are some things we probably feel we unintentionally took for granted.
"But this feels like you got to be on it from Day One with those guys and they are so receptive and open to it. It’s a lot of fun.”
Jones agreed with Linehan and said having new coaches and new blood was good for the young Cowboys and old ones as well.
“Sometimes, it’s great to have new voices in terms of the players who have been here to learn some new fundamentals, new system, if you will,” Jones said. “It's all a positive. The players have taken to it. I don't see any pushback. So all this is exciting in my opinion."