As Jason Garrett
is about to begin his first full season as the Dallas Cowboys
head coach, a pillar of his background is his education. He's a Princeton man with a degree in history. His wife Brill also graduated from Princeton and has a degree from Harvard Law. So it's not surprising that Garrett, who joins his team in making a preseason debut tonight against Denver at Cowboys Stadium, would draw a football example from the worlds of history and law. …
"It's little bit like the description of pornography from years back,'' Garrett says while discussing his desire for physical play from his team. "It's hard to define it … I know it when I see it."
Yes, Garrett is referencing the 1964 Supreme Court case during which Justice Potter Stewart famously said of what determines art vs. obscenity, "I know it when I see it."
And what are you Cowboys fans looking for from your team tonight, a club coming off a 6-10 year that was lowlighted by allegedly "soft'' play, at least until Garrett took over in midseason and finished 5-3?
Here are four things I think Cowboys fans hope they know when they see it:
Successful shuffling of the offensive line:
"Success'' is relative here. The group that will work Thursday will hopefully not resemble the regular-season's starting fivesome. But all eyes will certainly be on No. 1 draft pick Tyron Smith
getting the start at right tackle, with a glance to the shuffling that's being done to make up for injuries (center Andre Gurode
will start practicing next week and veteran guard Montrae Holland
has a bad back).
is a known quantity at left tackle and now Kyle Kosier
will get some work at right guard in a move that could help Smith. (Without that switch, Dallas would've lined up undrafted free agent Phil Costa
at center, with rookie David Arkin
next to him at right guard, and rookie Smith at right tackle next to him. Dangerous.)
Maybe fourth-round rookie Arkin will impress over at left guard, too. But this night will be deemed a success if Tyron Smith, just 20 years old, carries himself like a pro.
It would be false advertising to sell this game on the basis of quarterback Tony Romo
being a headliner. But the centerpiece of the Cowboys offense will be returning to the field for the first time since fracturing his collarbone in a loss to the Giants last October. Expect at least a temporary buzz in the stadium when Romo is on the field – and maybe some extra electricity from his teammates, too, before he turns his cap backwards and gives way to Jon Kitna
and Stephen McGee
Again, as overall headliners go on a national basis, Romo's participation probably won't be nearly as impactful as that of Denver's backup QB, Tim Tebow
But in Dallas, a healthy Romo – even for just a series or two – is cause for celebration.
The Cowboys spend most of training camp waiting on help at safety before finally signing returnee Gerald Sensabaugh
and Abe Elam, who was a rookie for Dallas in 2006 before blossoming as an NFL starter last year in Cleveland, where he coordinator was Rob Ryan
– now the Cowboys defensive coordinator.
Sensabaugh knows his way around the way the Cowboys used to do things under Wade Phillips. But Elam knows Ryan's style and scheme, and is being asked to guide his new teammates in a sort of on-the-job training for everyone. During his brief time in camp, he's been a central figure in Ryan's attack, alternately matching up successfully with All-Pro tight end Jason Witten on one play and then on the next shutting down Dallas' goal-line offense.
Elam's challenge is great: The Cowboys last year allowed a franchise-worst 436 points, ranking 31st in the NFL, and the only personnel chance from 2010?
The addition of Elam.
Garrett's non-avuncular stamp: Garrett's predecessor, Wade Phillips, is a gifted defensive mind and a fine gentleman. But his sleepy demeanor and Mall Santa appearance did not come in handy when the team needed to find another gear.
Garrett is also a fine person and is about as intellectual as an NFL coach has ever been. But his understanding of success in the NFL began two decades ago when he was an apprentice QB behind Troy Aikman and a champion under the leadership of Jimmy Johnson.
It is hoped that Garrett's Cowboys past will create a bridge to the Cowboys future, starting Thursday with an increase in physical play.
"At the end of the day, you need to be the one doing the hitting rather than being the hit-ee,'' Garrett says. "But you know what it is at the end of it. It's hard to define it. I think you know who is more physical. Often times you see that in the fourth quarter. A lot of time the team on the other side feels it. We pride ourselves on being a physical football team. It's important to us. It's an important time of the year to lay that foundation."
It may be a bit early to hope for those sorts of signs during the course of an initial, rather meaningless preseason game.
But if Jason Garrett is putting his stamp on things?
You'll know it when you see it.
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DONUT 12: Kenyon Martin is making changes that indicate his time in Denver is over.
I wonder if his recent mention of what he'd look like in the hometown Dallas uniform was more than just teasing?