Dallas Cowboys coach Jason Garrett has long preached about “worrying about the guys who are here.”
Ask Garrett about a player, who is absent, injured or suspended, and he will often respond with a comment about “coaching the guys who are here.”
As an organization last year, the Cowboys failed miserably in putting that philosophy into practice.
From the beginning of camp until the end of the season, the Cowboys put all their thoughts and hopes into guys who were suspended or sidelined with injuries.
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That mindset was embodied most by owner Jerry Jones.
First it was linebacker Rolando McClain and defensive end Greg Hardy who were both suspended for the first four games of the season.
Ask Jones about concerns on defense, he talked about how good the team would be when they got all their guys back.
Then it was quarterback Tony Romo and receiver Dez Bryant coming back from injuries that Jones put his stock in.
The end result was a forgettable 4-12 campaign, the worst season since the Cowboys went 1-15 when Jones bought the team in 1989.
Bryant and Romo were unable to overcome their injuries, a fractured foot and a twice-fractured collarbone, respectively.
McClain and Hardy didn’t prove to be worth the wait for a Cowboys defense the finished in the middle of the pack overall and among the league’s worst at getting the quarterback.
Jones said the Cowboys have learned their lessons of a year ago and will focus on the players they have.
They will not be waiting on anyone to save their season.
“I think we all probably will not be depending as much on people coming back whether it would be from injury or whether it would be from suspension,” Jones said. “That promise of ‘we are going to be better, let’s hold it together. Let’s get one or two wins.’ Just that attitude. We have all gotten current on how good that worked. I think we are going to just line them up with what we got and empty the bucket with the players that are there and if we get other players back then fine.”
Hardy is gone.
But McClain is suspended again _ for the first 10 games _ and may not play at all this year. He joins defensive ends DeMarcus Lawrence and Randy Gregory on the suspended list. Both will miss the first four games.
But there will no talk about holding the fort until their return.
Ironically, when Jones talks about what excites him heading into 2016, it’s based on Garrett and his team-building work ethos.
This time he plans on adhering to Garrett and carrying it through.
“I think Jason has done an outstanding job of putting together a work ethos that will carry us through,” Jones said. “We know we made mistakes last year. If had to do ot over again would do some things differently, certainly at quarterback. I got a lot of promise in Romo, Jason Witten. These guys are in shape. Dez is in shape. If anything we learned some things last year we had some disappointing consequences because of it. If we can not do those things, that will be enough to get us where we hoped we would be last year.