Commentary

Jason Garrett adds personal touch

Coach molds Cowboys in own image by building with high-motor overachievers

Updated: May 17, 2012, 1:26 AM ET
By Jean-Jacques Taylor | ESPNDallas.com

Jason Garrett was the epitome of an overachiever, a dude with marginal talent who played 12 seasons in the NFL.

It's amazing, really, considering he threw just 294 passes in his career.

[+] EnlargeJason Garrett
AP Photo/Linda KayeFormer teammates such as Michael Irvin appreciated what Jason Garrett contributed from the sidelines as a player.
But Garrett lasted so long because he studied like a starter, which meant he made few mistakes in practice. And he could help on Sundays because he knew the game plan as well as the starter.

He worked hard in the weight room, never complained about his role and took advantage of the limited opportunities he had to play, which is why he had 11 career touchdowns and only five interceptions.

Garrett was the right kind of guy, a player with a high motor who maximized his potential, which is all you can ever ask a player to do. His love for the game showed in his passion to prepare, even though he rarely played.

He was the kind of guy coaches and teammates always view as an asset. Why do you think former teammates such as Michael Irvin, Troy Aikman and Daryl Johnston have such positive things to say about a player who spent most of his career wearing a cap and carrying a clipboard?

Now, Garrett is building a team in his own image.

Who's surprised? Not me.

Normally, we surround ourselves with like-minded people. It should surprise no one that Garrett wants a team of players -- the right kind of guys -- who share his approach to the game.

"Our experience," he said recently, "has been that when you have a lot of these kinds of guys on your team, you practice better and you play better. It's infectious."

Talent isn't enough to thrive in the NFL.

Everyone on an NFL roster -- even the worst player -- is supremely talented. It's intangibles, most of the time, that make the difference.

Especially when we're talking about the bottom 30 players on a roster.

How much do you study? How important is winning? Where is football on your priority list? How hard do you play?

[+] EnlargeJason Garrett
Mark J. Rebilas/US PresswireJason Garrett and the Cowboys placed a high premium on character with their offseason additions.
Give me a good player who gives supreme effort every snap over a supremely talented player who plays when he feels like it. We all know Albert Haynesworth is one of the most physically gifted players in the game, but don't be surprised if he spends this season at home.

Teams are tired of begging the defensive tackle to play.

All you have to do is look at the players the Cowboys drafted and added in free agency, and see what Garrett and owner Jerry Jones have said about each of them.

Nearly all of the Cowboys' draft picks were described as "high-motor" players. They drafted leaders, too.

Of the seven players selected, only sixth-round pick James Hanna was not a captain.

"If you look at the character of each of them, we believe they have the makeup to be really good players," Garrett said. "Why do we think that is so important? We feel like that allows them, as much as anything else, to achieve their potential.

"It's not like they're undersized guys who will run through the wall for you but can't play in the NFL. These guys have the physical traits to play, and they also have the intangible qualities, which we think can help them be their best and help our team."

In the fourth quarter of a tight ballgame, you need guys who will persevere through the physical pain and fatigue they're experiencing, and make a play. You need guys who will show up in the first quarter and the fourth quarter of a win-and-get-in game in December.

That's the essence of football.

The Cowboys have failed at that element of the game time and time and time again over the past decade. It's among the reasons they fade in December seemingly every year.

Garrett is changing this team's soft mindset and the silly sense of entitlement that runs through it one player at a time.

A lot of players have had a good season. Or two. Longevity matters.

Anyone not named Tony Romo, Jason Witten, Jay Ratliff or DeMarcus Ware is still trying to establish himself as one of the game's best.

Those are the only players on this team who should have any sense of entitlement.

Garrett knows what it takes to win, and he's been adding players with the proper mindset to this roster since he replaced Wade Phillips eight games into the 2010 season.

Perhaps this is the year Garrett sees tangible evidence his roster overhaul is working.

Jean-Jacques Taylor joined ESPNDallas.com in August 2011. A native of Dallas, Taylor spent the past 20 years writing for The Dallas Morning News, where he covered high schools sports, the Texas Rangers and spent 11 seasons covering the Dallas Cowboys before becoming a general columnist in 2006.

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