Commentary

Garrett's players finally speaking up

Cowboys' leaders are stepping up to motivate their own -- as coach always wanted

Updated: September 20, 2013, 2:20 PM ET
By Jean-Jacques Taylor | ESPNDallas.com

IRVING, Texas -- A lot of guys could've done what Dallas Cowboys defensive tackle Jason Hatcher did after practice the other day.

Tony Romo. Sean Lee. Jason Witten. DeMarcus Ware.

Any of them could've asked Jason Garrett for an opportunity to briefly address the team Wednesday afternoon.

[+] EnlargeJason Hatcher
Ed Szczepanski/USA TODAY SportsVeteran DT Jason Hatcher is among few vocal leaders on the Cowboys, a function Jason Garrett has long desired for his team.

Only Hatcher did.

He didn't talk long, but in a passionate soliloquy -- yes, he dropped several F-bombs, according to multiple witnesses -- Hatcher talked to his teammates about being singularly committed to winning, avoiding another mediocre season and playing for something other than a paycheck.

Then he implored Witten to ride with him. Romo, too.

Hallelujah. It's about time.

This wasn't about defense versus offense. Or players versus coaches. Or veterans versus youngsters.

This was about the Cowboys escaping the abyss of mediocrity they've been stuck in for years.

You saw the 17-16 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs last week.

You saw the red-zone miscues. You saw the turnovers. You saw the Dez Bryant drop. You saw the defense fade in the fourth quarter.

Understandably, many of you said, "Here we go again."

But it doesn't have to be the same old story for this team. The Cowboys have every opportunity to create a new narrative.

See, it didn't really matter who addressed the team. The words and feelings just needed to be conveyed verbally to everyone.

The triumph, really, is that someone said something. After all, you never know what impact, if any, Hatcher's talk will have.

It certainly won't be the difference between winning or losing to the St. Louis Rams on Sunday.

This was more about establishing a standard of performance and trying to achieve that mark each week. Do that, and the wins and losses will come.

Plenty of players on this team lead in their own way. Guys like Witten and Ware tend to lead by example, showing their teammates how to successfully manage the daily grind of an NFL season with their work ethic.

But every team needs vocal leaders, guys who say what others are thinking but, for whatever reason, haven't verbalized.

When it's about team-building and winning, it's a beautiful thing.

The core players on this team should be sick of being mired in the muck of mediocrity. The core has one playoff victory and has missed the playoffs in each of the past three seasons. And it's known much for more for its dramatic failures than its momentous victories.

Hatcher, like many of his teammates, has decided he's tired of losing games the Cowboys should win because of silly mistakes, and he wants every player and coach to know it. And he wants them to do something about it while the season remains in it's infancy.

It's one thing when a team kicks your butt, and quite another when you let them hang around through missed opportunities and mistakes and that team wins it at the end.

Hatcher has seen the Cowboys blow a bunch of winnable games over the years.

Then, he was a youngster. No more.

He's 31, nearing social security age for NFL players. He has evolved into a vocal leader on the defensive line, the guy who teaches the youngsters on the defensive line how to be a pro, whether it's taking care of their bodies or beating a double team.

He's in the last season of his contract. Smart teams don't pay age in the NFL, so this should be his last season with the Cowboys.

Perhaps this will be his legacy. The soft-spoken veteran, who inspired his teammates by demanding excellence.

This is Jason Garrett's master plan. It's what the Cowboys of the '90s knew and understood.

Sure, Jimmy Johnson held the ultimate trump card, but the players created an environment of excellence and accountability.

The players controlled the locker room and demanded more from one another than Johnson ever could, unless we're talking about Charles Haley.

This is why Garrett had different players address the team in training camp. He wanted the players to take ownership of their team and police themselves. That's how the best teams operate. Then, if Garrett needs to drop the hammer a few times during the season, he can.

Slowly but steadily, Garrett is creating the culture of accountability and competition he wants. Players control the locker room. Guys who don't perform or underperform get benched.

He just needs to win enough games during the process to keep the owner from firing him.

Sunday would be a good start. Hatcher has established the tone.

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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