Jason Garrett wants tougher Cowboys
Coach knows his team has to become more physical to return to its winning ways
SAN ANTONIO -- From Day 1, Jason Garrett's top priority has been changing this team's demeanor.
He must, if the Dallas Cowboys are ever going to return to their glory days. Soft teams don't win in the NFL.
In the chest-thumping world of bravado and machismo that is the NFL, only the strongest survive. It's social Darwinism at its finest.
So what makes a physical team?
"I think probably a little bit like that description of pornography from years back: I think you know what it is when you see it," Garrett said with a smile.
"After three hours and 60 or 70 plays on either side of the ball, you're the one that's doing the hitting more than being the hittee. We pride ourselves on being a physical football team. It's important to us."
Physical teams consist of physical players who have traits that can be amplified by coaching and refined with flawless technique. That said, you can't expect a poodle to have a rottweiler's temperament.
Garrett wants a group of players who yearn to break their opponent's spirit with their unrelenting effort on every play.
That mentality, he's convinced, is the difference between consistently succeeding or failing on fourth-and-1. Or winning and losing in the fourth quarter.
Now, you know why Garrett spends so much time talking about populating the Cowboys' roster with the right kinds of guys.
He's not just talking about players who don't get in trouble off the field or show up on time for meetings. He's talking about guys who can persevere through pain and adversity and deliver in the fourth quarter.
"We want physical football players, and that comes from drafting and signing them as free agents," Garrett said. "That's a starting point, but then just the way you go about your business every day.
"This is the standard for the physicalness of our football team. This is how we're going to practice and this is what we expect from you. It's positive reinforcement when it's good and it's negative reinforcement when it's not so good to get the behavior the way it needs to be."
After three hours and 60 or 70 plays on either side of the ball, you're the one that's doing the hitting more than being the hittee. We pride ourselves on being a physical football team. It's important to us.” -- Cowboys coach Jason Garrett
The Cowboys lost eight of their 10 games last season by a touchdown or less, including four by a field goal or less. We're also talking about a team that was outscored during the fourth quarter in 11 of 16 games.
Just so you know, the Cowboys allowed 126 points in the fourth quarter. Only Denver and Jacksonville allowed more.
Garrett won't say it because he's too diplomatic, but if the Cowboys hadn't been so mentally and physically soft, there's no way they would've started 1-7 and finished 6-10.
Their downfall started with a Club Med atmosphere in training camp and a laissez-faire attitude that infected the roster. Training Camp 2011 bares no resemblance to Training Camp 2010.
The players have been properly humbled. They're willing to do anything to rid themselves of last season's stench.
"We didn't play well enough, that's the first thing, and as the season wore on we regained some physicalness and that helped us," Garrett said of last season. "You have to be physical running the football in this league.
"We're trying to lay that foundation right now with our running game and throughout our football team."
It's no coincidence Garrett's first act as head coach was to make the players practice in pads at least once a week. Sometimes, twice a week.
And it's no secret he hired defensive coordinator Rob Ryan and strength coach Mike Woicik because of their intangibles as much as their skill set.
Ryan doesn't tolerate soft players. Trust me, Mike Jenkins' days of passing up tackles have ended.
No strength coach demands more than Woicik, and Garrett has given him the juice to make the life miserable of any player who balks at his program.
It's simple: Garrett wants opponents dreading games against the Cowboys, the same way teams can't stand playing Pittsburgh, Baltimore and the New York Jets.
Win or lose, those games are painful.
Jerry Jones must be patient while Garrett changes the franchise's demeanor. The process can't be rushed.
Eventually, it'll be worth the wait. Tough teams win.
Jean-Jacques Taylor is a columnist for ESPNDallas.com.