First Impressions Of First Practice

OXNARD, Calif. – And off they go.

The Cowboys holding their first practice of Training Camp 2022 here in Southern California.

Head coach Mike McCarthy holds his first solo press conference of camp.

Roughly a half-dozen players were made available for their first interviews of camp, and that included a jovial Ezekiel Elliott taking the main stage with Dak Prescott expected to follow on Thursday.

Just remember to take a whole lot of this over the next few days with a grain of salt, especially when it comes to individual or team performances. This was the first of four practices scheduled for helmets, jerseys and shorts, per the NFL collective bargaining agreement. Contact is quite minimal during this ramp-up period, trying to prevent unnecessary soft tissue injuries right from the beginning._

And while coaches are wont to grind players during training camp, McCarthy, and all the other 31 NFL head coaches, are allowed only 11 hours a day of player time, the clock begins ticking from the first mandatory meeting or lift or on-field activity through the final mandatory team event. That be it.

“We have to max it out,” McCarthy said of what they can accomplish in those 11 hours. “They have to understand this is going fast.”

But hey, the thermostat is conducive to all the work you can squeeze in out here. At 6:30 this morning it was 58 degrees, and by the time the Cowboys hit the practice field for one of those minicamp-type workouts, it was mid-60s with the high of 68 today. And that’s with the sun shining the majority of the day for the first time so far over three days out here.

So, we had better start firing up some juicy shots in a hurry.

  • Welcome Sight: While pretty predictable that the Cowboys were going to place WR Michael Gallup on PUP and rookie LB Damone Clark on NFI before this first practice, the status of LB Jabril Cox wasn’t as certain since last year’s fourth-round draft choice spent the entire offseason rehabilitating following knee surgery to repair his torn ACL. Well, there was No. 14 in blue on the field again, not only resuming practice, but going out with the second-team defense at linebacker along with Luke Gifford. The Cowboys aren’t deep at linebacker after starters Micah Parsons and Leighton Vander Esch, so they really need Cox to come on strong at outside linebacker and possibly snatch some snaps in a two-linebacker nickel defense, along with becoming a main special teams participant.
  • Lookee There: This had to be another welcome sight for the Cowboys coaching staff, and likely you, too. When the first team offense trotted onto the field, Dak Prescott’s three receivers were CeeDee Lamb, James Washington and Jalen Tolbert. Remember, Washington signed in free agency for veteran depth at the troublesome receiver spot but missed all the offseason OTA and minicamp workouts with a sore ankle tendon. Lamb and Tolbert also missed some of those workouts. But knowing presumed No. 2 receiver Gallup likely will miss the first month of the season, seeing all three of those guys on the field at the same time does assuage some of the growing receiver fears after trading away Amari Cooper and unable to re-sign free agent Cedrick Wilson. Noah Brown, Simi Fehoko and Dennis Houston were out with the second team.
  • Jerry Said: When talking about this year’s team, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said in the opening press conference he is optimistic despite the loss of several prominent veterans from last year’s team, namely Cooper, Randy Gregory and La’el Collins. He would say, “I thought last year we had a chance to make a heck of a run at it and had people in place that if we were healthy enough, we might get ’em. And I think we’re in better shape.” Meaning this year. Part of me thinks Jones was referring also to the fact that the Cowboys have roughly $20 million in cap space. That if they need to fill an emergency hole at some position, they actually, for a change, have money in the kitty to sign a veteran free agent still out there.
  • Run DC: The Cowboys might have finished ninth in rushing last year, and Zeke edged over the 1,000-yard mark in the final game of the 17-game season (1,002). So, when McCarthy was asked if he was pleased with last year’s run-pass ratio, he had a lengthy explanation of how many factors can determine that from game to game. But his most important comment about the run game was this: “You’ve got to run the ball when you have to run the ball … got to have a phonebooth run game when you run it no matter what.” Meaning up the middle between the tackles when the defense knows you are going to run right at them.
  • First Impressions: When talking about Elliott, McCarthy saying, “He’s all football,” and going on to say, “When you think of Zeke you think of his running style. That was always my first impression. I remember the first time I saw him, 2016, I was on the other sideline. He came running down the sideline, ‘Oh, my god, look at the size on the head of that guy.’ He’s just a different runner. He can run really fast. He’s just a powerful runner.” Sounds like the head coach is glad he’s his. No mention of more increased sharing of snaps with Tony Pollard.
  • On Guard: Thought it interesting that while Connor McGovern again went out with the first-team offense at left guard as he did during OTAs and minicamp and first-round pick Tyler Smith working with the second team, there were times Smith got snaps at left guard with the first team. This one is worth watching the competition.
  • End Or Tackle: Might have to start calling these guys just defensive linemen. During those offseason workouts, last year’s third-round draft pick Chauncey Golston was seen working more at defensive tackle than the defensive end he had been in 2021. Was written off as just trying to be versatile. Well, that versatility might be more than that as nearly all of Golston’s snaps on Wednesday came inside at defensive tackle at the 3-technique. After all, Golston is 6-5, 277, a good dinner from 280. And there also were snaps with left defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence rushing inside at tackle during the offense’s two-minute drill. Why, even second-round defensive end Sam Williams was seen inside at tackle in pass-rush situations, and he, too, 6-4, 261.

Today’s last word goes to the rookie Williams when explaining how he worked on some technique-type things after the Cowboys’ final minicamp session. And when asked where he did all this work, Williams, who played his college ball at Ole Miss and grew up in Alabama, had this to say about his first experience in Texas.

“I was just around. I was in Texas the whole time. I don’t know nobody in Texas, so when I say I was bored, I need new friends. Whoever is listening, ya’ll, if you need new friends, let me know.

“Because let me tell you, I was bored. I just went home, and then I have my son. We went to this place called Lifetime (health club). It’s a new place in Frisco where they can watch my son while I work out and do my thing. It was a pretty fun experience. I’m trying to learn Texas and stuff, but it’s so hot man, so hot.”

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