IRVING, Texas – Baylor head football coach Art Briles never needed a better reason to come to Valley Ranch in the past.
For nearly nine years, his daughter Jancy was a valuable part of the Cowboys' public relations department. Recently, she has moved on to another job, but that doesn't stop Briles from still making his way to the Cowboys' headquarters.
In fact, last week he had a handful of reasons to show up for the rookie minicamp.
While Briles has undoubtedly turned Baylor from a college football doormat to one of the top programs in the country, the proof is starting to show up on NFL fields as well, including the one at Valley Ranch.
When Briles visited Saturday's practice, he had four former players from last year's squad on the field for the Cowboys' rookie minicamp, including seventh-round pick Ahmad Dixon.
"I look at it through proud eyes now, not reflective eyes," Briles said. "I've seen their journey all the way through. That's always current with them. It's a dream come true for these players. That's what is great about the NFL."
Along with Dixon, the Cowboys signed former Baylor tight end Jordan Najvar and running back Glasco Martin to rookie free agent deals. The team also invited linebacker Eddie Lackey to the minicamp on a workout basis. Since the minicamp, the Cowboys released Martin to make room for veteran tailback Ryan Williams, although one Cowboys scout said Martin impressed enough in his three days on the field and could be re-signed later in the summer.
Briles said Najvar brings a wide range of traits that could help him land a spot on the active roster.
"His intelligence, frame, skill-level, toughness and then again, just a passionate guy," Briles said. "He's a multi-purpose guy who can be on some protection special teams and certainly can fit into the offense as an H-back type player or tight end. Mentally, he's just way ahead of the curve."
While Briles got a front-row seat for the practice on Saturday, it was actually the same view as Dixon, who was held out because of a hip injury he sustained at the Senior Bowl in January. When he gets healthy, Briles said Cowboys fans will love the attitude Dixon brings to the field.
"The thing that makes Ahmad special is his passion, energy and belief," Briles said. "Those are three great traits to have. That's what he'll bring to the table every day. He's a tough guy that plays with an extreme amount of passion and he always believes he's going to win."
And unlike most players from Baylor, Dixon has won, being part of the only recruiting class that went to a bowl game every year of his career.
Briles has now enjoyed six seasons at Baylor, and after two straight 4-8 seasons, the Bears have gone 7-6, 10-3, 8-5 and 11-2 last year, winning the Big 12 for the first time in school history to earn Baylor's first-ever BCS appearance. Baylor has also produced Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III and some top young talent in the NFL, especially at receiver with Josh Gordon, Kendall Wright and even Cowboys' wideout Terrance Williams, who is expected to start opposite Dez Bryant this year as the No. 2 receiver.
Last year, Williams had a solid season of 44 catches for 736 yards and five touchdowns. He became the first rookie in franchise history to catch a touchdown pass in four straight games. Williams had a career-high 151 yards against Denver and also produced two clutch receptions on the game-winning drive to beat Washington in Week 16. [embedded_ad]
But according to Briles, that was about what he expected.
"I was not impressed and not surprised, quite honestly," said Briles, who signed Williams in his first recruiting class at Baylor in 2008. "I've been around Terrance for five years. I knew his work ethic, his drive and motivation and knew his skill level. The thing that is unique about Terrance, you think he's a certain size when you look at him from a distance, but when you get right up on him, he's a full-grown man. He's extremely physical, strong and driven. He's a tough-ass.
"I'm not surprised, not impressed, but what he gave was what was expected. He'll continue to get better and better."
- Nick Eatman is the recent published author of: **“Art Briles: Looking Up,”* an authorized biography on the current Baylor football coach, with a foreword written by Robert Griffin III. *