Cowboys' leaders taking control

OXNARD, Calif. -- You wouldn’t think a Sour Patch Kids commercial would have much to do with professional football, but Anthony Spencer went with it anyway.

Speaking in front of his Dallas Cowboys teammates earlier in training camp, Spencer showed the commercial in which a paintball-gun-wielding Sour Patch Kid repeatedly shot his friend, only to see their likeness appear on the wall at the end.

“First they’re sour,” announced the voice-over. “Then they’re sweet.”

Sitting in the darkened room at the Cowboys’ River Ridge Residence Inn complex, cornerback Sterling Moore got Spencer’s message.

“That’s what training camp is all about,” Moore said. “You’re coming out, grinding every day. The coaches are yelling and take shots [at you], but they’re building you up to do something great.”

Since camp began, Jason Garrett has put the leaders in front of the full team to offer up a quote, a personal story, or even a Sour Patch Kids commercial.

“As coaches you try to promote those guys in some way, shape or form so that everybody sees that this is the right way to do it,” Garrett said. “Sean Lee, Jason Witten, Miles Austin, they do it the right way, and we’re going to try to give them every opportunity to lead this team -- giving them a chance to be in front of the whole group and talk to the team and highlight them in a lot of different ways, whether it’s on tape, in a meeting room or on the field. Make sure that they have a voice and that we’re not an obstacle to that voice.

"Again, the best teams that I’ve been on, those guys grasp it. It’s their time. It’s their football team.”

Leadership issues have been more of an outside-the-locker-room issue than an inside-the-locker-room issue because of the lack of playoff success with the core of this team. Jason Hatcher wondered two years ago whether the Cowboys needed a Ray Lewis-type voice, as if that is the only leadership style that works.

Witten is a leader. Lee is a leader. Tony Romo is a leader. DeMarcus Ware is a leader. Hatcher has grown to become a leader.

Do they have to have the oration and dance skills of Lewis to be as effective? No.

But by putting these players in front of the full team, Garrett is establishing who they must follow.

“Witten had a heckuva story,” safety Barry Church said. “When he was young he was going through something where he wrecked his car and three horses pulled him out of a ditch. That one showed you need everybody.”

When Romo spoke to teammates, he mentioned that he has been every player sitting in that room.

“From just trying to make the team to the backup to the guy trying to become the starter to the starter, the whole process and the way that takes shape,” Romo said. “I was like, ‘The one thing we all have in common is that you’re just desperately trying to be that guy that can make the team, the guy that can get time to play, the guy that can be the starter.’ What you’re talking about is a feeling in your gut that you want so bad that you’ve got to attack it every day like that. If you do that, then you give yourself a great opportunity to be the player you want to be. That doesn’t change whether you’re a guy who’s been here 10 years or a guy in his first year. It’s all relative to your situation, but that thing in your stomach is still there.”

Brandon Carr is still waiting for his opportunity to speak. He has a couple of different stories in his mind and hopes one clicks as he walks to the front of the room.

“It allows us a chance to spread some of our knowledge to the younger players, and it allows us the players to get to know us a little bit,” Carr said. “It’s a little bit of an icebreaker.”

Or a Sour Patch Kid.

“I thought it was outstanding,” Garrett said. “That’s the great thing about it. I have a certain way of conveying something. Our coaches have a certain way of conveying something. Then you give all these different guys a chance to talk and what’s important to them, how they present and they present it differently, but oftentimes what you get is a reinforcement of the big message. Said a different way, whether it’s a story, a quote, a commercial or whatever, you’re always trying to kind of reinforce the same things. And I think that everything that every one of those guys has said to our team, I’m like, ‘Wow, that was really good. That’s something I really believe in. I’m glad he was able to stand up there and talk to the team like that.’ And the response of the rest of the team, teammates, coaches, everybody has been really positive.”