SAN ANTONIO (AP) – Of all the reasons Jerry Jones hired Jason Garrett to coach the Dallas Cowboys, two that stuck out were his Ivy League education and the enthusiasm that comes from a young guy getting his big chance for the first time.
Jones said Wednesday those qualities should really help under the circumstances of Garrett’s first training camp in charge.
The offseason was lost to the lockout and now that training camp is here the roster is in flux. Some veterans are being cut, others are trying to be re-signed and the front office is stretched thin trying to do all that plus chase free agents and sign all the draft picks. They’ve already decided to release veteran starters Leonard Davis, Roy Williams and Marion Barber, plus kicker Kris Brown, and have agreed to re-sign left tackle Doug Free to a $32 million, four-year deal, people familiar with those moves have told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the team hasn’t announced anything yet.
Things are so hectic that Garrett and Jones cut short the annual pre-training camp “State of the Cowboys” news conference so they could go to the team hotel for a meeting, then return to the Alamodome for a two-hour conditioning test with however many players they have. Up to 70 players — including possibly all eight draft picks — are expected on the field Thursday morning for the first practice, a walkthrough.
“One of the things about being smart plus being young is that you roll with the flow and you take the hand that’s dealt you and you go,” Jones said. “I like the ability to cut and shoot, and think on your feet. I think the Cowboys are going to benefit from that.”
Garrett showed he can do more with less last year, taking a club that started 1-7 and going 5-3 in what already was a lost season. So while this isn’t the way he would have liked it, he’s going to make the most of it.
“The biggest thing is we need to stop talking and get to work,” he said. “That’s going to be our message to our football team, and I think everybody is excited about doing that.”
Garrett’s mantra last season was stacking good days together, and he believes a fast tempo is part of it. He’s also a proponent of physical practices, something the new labor agreement curtails.
Teams are allowed one practice in pads per day and a total of four hours on the field. Garrett will maximize that most days, with one-hour morning walkthroughs and afternoon workouts in pads that could last up to the three remaining hours.
“As soon as we were able to understand what the rules were, we went to work to try to work within those parameters and that schedule will be on display starting tomorrow,” he said. “These are the new rules and we’re going to make them work.”
However Garrett runs camp, it’ll be tougher than predecessor Wade Phillips. His soft training camp last summer is often considered the root of the problems that set the Cowboys off to the 1-7 start that cost him his job.
Garrett’s interaction with Jones is different than Phillips’, too.
One difference that may have been coincidental, but was hard to miss, was the way they were seated on the podium. A large sponsor’s decal is supposed to make it look like they’re sitting in the front of a pickup truck, and in the Phillips era Jones was always on the driver’s side. This time, Garrett was.
Garrett also wasn’t willing to commit to using veterans during the preseason, even though minutes earlier Jones said, “There are going to be more veterans playing in the preseason. They’ve got to.”
“Really, what we want to do is get in the flow of training camp, see how it’s going and understand within these new rules what kind of work we’re getting and then we’ll adjust accordingly once the games come around,” Garrett said.
Garrett and Jones were together in their praise of Tony Romo and other veterans who organized and ran offseason practices. More than 40 players attended the private sessions.
“I think a lot of good things happen in football when coaches walk off the field and players work together by themselves,” Garrett said. “Because we couldn’t be out there with them in OTAs and minicamps, we believe that happened a lot with our football team. A lot of our players live in Dallas. We have the right kind of players who we believe will prepare themselves the right way and they got a chance to get together and work on their own and we think those are beneficial things.”
Another aspect of the lost offseason was defensive players not getting to know their new coordinator, Rob Ryan. Garrett downplayed that, saying “the dynamics are different, the chemistry is different” for every unit, every season, but acknowledged “they have to learn it quickly.”
In his opening remarks, Jones spoke at length about the lockout and the improvement it should have on the NFL for the next 10 years. He became emotional in thanking NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and labor boss DeMaurice Smith.
“We took this thing into the perfect storm and got the boat back home to get this done right,” Jones said, pausing several times during that line, his eyes turning red then glistening. “I’m proud of the players, I’m proud of the negotiation. I’ll tell you right now the results were one that, when everybody got the facts, it really is a positive for us.”
(© Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)