Thursday, September 3, 2009
Are the Cowboys the Beast's most stable team?
By Dan Graziano
Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley
We begin today's column with a simple question: What in the world has happened to the Dallas Cowboys?
In one offseason, they've gone from being the most compelling locker room in professional sports to the most mundane. After watching a couple episodes of "Hard Knocks," I've even looked at real estate in the greater Cincinnati area. Last season, more than 50 reporters would show up at Valley Ranch on days when quarterback Tony Romo and Terrell Owens held dueling news conferences. On Wednesday, I walked into the locker room and noticed a dozen reporters milling around looking for scraps.
With the Cowboys' version of the Rat Pack -- T.O., Pacman and Tank -- gone, the locker room has taken on an entirely different vibe. Romo remains the headliner, but he has disappointed the editors of US Weekly and People with at least one recent decision. Before the Cowboys' quarterback made his weekly appearance Wednesday, reporters flocked to hear what former fifth-round cornerback Orlando Scandrick had to say. Just think what it will be like if Scandrick becomes a starter.
Meanwhile, the rest of the division is in turmoil. In the Meadowlands, Pro Bowl defensive end Osi Umenyiora vanished without a trace after new defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan reportedly had the audacity to criticize him during a film session Monday. In an embarrassing scene, the ultimate disciplinarian, Tom Coughlin, could only tell reporters that his missing defensive end had been found via text. Umenyiora quickly returned to the property and apologized, but it was still an episode that would've fit better at Valley Ranch in '08.
In Philly, the Eagles continue to deliver the "nothing to see here" message as Michael Vick prepares to be the backup to the most insecure star quarterback in the league. Donovan McNabb was complaining Monday that Vick's six snaps interrupted the offense's rhythm in a preseason game against the Jaguars. And in my opinion, that's simply a precursor to Vick interrupting McNabb's hold on the starting job at some point this season. People who think that Vick will be satisfied with a handful of Wildcat plays (and there are plenty in the national media) haven't followed the man's career. He's one of the game's most fierce competitors and he hasn't been shy about stating his goal to become a starter again.
And it's not as if everything was going smoothly in Eagles camp before Vick arrived. The death of defensive coordinator Jim Johnson certainly took an emotional toll on the team, but the impact could also show up on the field. By all accounts, 35-year-old Sean McDermott is a worthy successor to Johnson, but so far the results haven't been there in the preseason.
For their part, the Redskins have spent the past month attempting to restore faith in starting quarterback Jason Campbell. Judging by the actions of owner Dan Snyder and his trusty sidekick Vinny Cerrato, I think it's fair to say that coach Jim Zorn's and Campbell's jobs are both on the line this season. It's playoffs or bust for these two, which is a dicey proposition in what is arguably the most competitive division in the league. Right now, the Redskins are dealing with another adversary: The Washington Post. A story in Thursday's newspaper provides details of how the club has sued more than 100 season-ticket holders who asked to be released from multiyear contracts over the past five years. The Redskins fired off a preemptive press release attacking the story's credibility Wednesday evening.
So what's going on in Dallas? Other than punters aiming for Jerry Jones' gigantic big screen, everything's pretty quiet. Jones thinks the biggest motivating factor in '09 will be his new $1.2 billion stadium. In his annual state-of-the-team address on the opening day of training camp, Jones said he thought his team would "play to the level of the stadium."
And after last year's drama that included allegations of Romo and road-trip roomie Jason Witten having pillow talk behind T.O.' s back, this appears to be the most stable locker room in the division. When I broached that subject with wide receiver Miles Austin on Wednesday, he started laughing.
"It's sort of nice not to have our names in the papers for all that stuff right now," Austin said. "I don't know about all the other locker rooms because I'm only in this one. But this locker room has a much different feel right now. I think guys are all about football, and that's a good thing."
We all remember how the '08 season ended for Romo. He tried to lend some perspective to a loss (to the Eagles) that didn't deserve any, and he's still paying for those comments. But he looked like a different quarterback during training camp in San Antonio. He still played with the same carefree spirit that energized the club in '06, but he also was willing to hold his teammates accountable. Players such as Austin and Patrick Crayton were a little taken aback when Romo got in their face, but they know it's a positive sign. And like Austin, Romo's relishing the fact the Cowboys are flying under the radar -- by their standards.
"In the last few years, this is probably the first time that we feel, not that we're being overlooked, but some of you guys have decided to take other teams in the division or in the conference and things of that nature," Romo said recently. "That's a different role, playing that kind of role -- not that that serves you good or bad. It's just a little different in that regard."
After what the Cowboys went through last season, I think the peace and quiet in the locker room could serve them very well.