On one end of the field Thursday afternoon, Jason Garrett acted as if he were a defensive back lining up against players such as Ohio State’s Braxton Miller.
On the other end, Rod Marinelli barked instructions to get defensive linemen to run his drills the right way, yelling things such as “Violent with your hands!” and “Reach!”
Scott Linehan, Gary Brown, Frank Pollack, Matt Eberflus and the rest of the Cowboys’ staff has shown similar enthusiasm and passion throughout the week in coaching the top senior prospects at the Senior Bowl going into this year’s draft. The game is at 1:30 p.m. Saturday (NFL Network).
Everybody understands the value the players can get out of this week in terms of increasing their draft stock, but the Cowboys’ coaching staff is taking full advantage of it as well.
“We love it. It’s a great opportunity and our coaches have really taken advantage of this chance to get to know these guys and we’re coaching football,” Garrett said. “It’s always fun for us to coach. We can always get better at what we do.
“A big part of coaching is being out here together, working together, coaching the players hard, holding them to a standard and we can always improve on our skills. Our ability to communicate, our ability to work together ... when you get a chance to work with these guys, the best college players in the country, guys who can have a big impact on a football team, is a great opportunity.”
Garrett and the rest of his staff are trying to expose the players to an NFL-style practice and meetings, which means it’s not always all fun and games. In other words, it’s almost the exact opposite approach from when the Cowboys coached the Pro Bowl a year ago.
“The practice tempo of the Pro Bowl compared to the Senior Bowl is different and the players at the Pro Bowl let you know that in a very professional way,” a smiling Garrett said. “It was such a privilege to coach those guys, the best players on the planet. And their approach was outstanding. We had a lot of fun doing that.
“[The Senior Bowl] is a different kind of game. The tempo of things is a little bit different. Some of our objectives are different. A lot of evaluation going on here.”
That’s why the Cowboys coaches were consistently pointing out ways the prospects could improve their technique, or insisting on more effort in various drills.
Garrett, much as he does with the Cowboys, has told the players to show “a little bounce” countless times during practices this week. And he’s not afraid to make the offense re-huddle if he thinks the players didn’t break it properly.
In Garrett’s mind, breaking the huddle with confidence and conviction translates to that particular play having a better chance of success.
“Everything matters,” Garrett said. “The way you approach a play starts with the huddle, how it’s communicated, how you break the huddle. There’s a certain energy and attention to detail that’s critical in that process to make sure everybody is on the same page. And I really do believe the execution of the play can be reflected by that by the approach that you take.
“You never want to slap it around — you want to go out there and do things the right way at the highest level. And, again, I do think it impacts the ultimate execution of the play.”
The players have certainly bought into the Cowboys’ coaching staff, too. The darling of the event, North Dakota State quarterback Carson Wentz, follows any instruction or advice that may come his way, and raved about working with guys such as Garrett, Linehan and quarterbacks coach Wade Wilson.
On the defensive side, every player has gained respect for Marinelli and the other assistants.
As Penn State defensive end Carl Nassib said, “It’s been a pleasure working with Marinelli. He’s the man. I love him.”
The Cowboys’ staff has a similar appreciation for the players.
“This is a great experience for us and it’s a great honor to be in this game,” Linehan said. “You get to spend a lot of time you normally don’t get at the [NFL] Combine or Senior Bowl [when you’re not coaching it] with these guys.
“Here we get a chance to work with these guys on the field, in the classroom, watching film afterward … you don’t get that time usually. It’s really invaluable.”
1:30 p.m. Saturday, NFL Network