OXNARD, Calif. – This was always the goal.
Blake Jarwin was still slightly out of breath when he faced reporters Thursday morning, having just gone through his football practice since his ACL injury all the way back in September 2020.
Jarwin didn't sit out of team activities, and he certainly wasn't listed on the PUP list, the indicator that a player isn't quite ready to return from an injury. No, Jarwin was a full participant – meaning he hit the benchmark he set for himself all the way back at the beginning of his rehab.
"It was always kind of the plan to be 100%, body-wise. Now we'll work our way into getting the reps that we need," Jarwin said. "Today was a great first step. I've got so much to clean up just from being out for so long, but it feels awesome to be back with the guys."
It's an encouraging end result, but it's thanks to a grueling process that Jarwin – and a lot of the Cowboys' roster – underwent during the past year, when no one was watching. Due to the unprecedented rash of injuries that faced the team last season, Jarwin was one of many starters who spent their offseason working with Britt Brown, the Cowboys' associate athletic trainer and director of rehabilitation.
"I stayed through it from the beginning of OTAs I was hitting it pretty hard, and all through the summer when the guys were off I was up there grinding it out with Britt," Jarwin said. "That was kind of the plan to make sure I was ready for today."
Given that Jarwin was joined in the rehab program by cornerstone players like Dak Prescott, Tyron Smith and La'el Collins, among others, it's no surprise Brown's importance this offseason was highlighted by Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy when he was detailing the team's injury status heading into training camp.
"I think that speaks volumes for our training staff, our strength and conditioning staff," McCarthy said. "Britt Brown, we actually recognized him in a team meeting, and the reason why I am telling you that is -- this is going to piss him off that I put this out in the media -- but he did an incredible job."
It is still a process, though. Jarwin is starting with a smaller rep count, and he'll work his way up as the Cowboys work through almost six weeks of training camp. He won't be alone in that. Other players returning from injury are working on plans of their own, and not everyone is available to take the field just yet.
But when that happens, no one on the Cowboys' offense is shying away from the possibilities.
"I think we can be one of the best. I know that our quarterback, our leader of the team, has high expectations," Jarwin said. "He's setting a standard that's pretty high for us, and we're going to chase it. It's our job to maintain that standard every day. We're excited for it, we're up for the challenge."
That will all come in due time. The pads don't even come on until next week. But the initial goal has been hit. Given the road that Jarwin has been down since Week 1 of last season, that's an encouraging place to start.
"It's obviously hard, but at the end of the day there's going to be setbacks when you come through rehab," he said. "Control what you can control and let's move forward with it, and here I am today – Day 1 of camp. That was my goal. It was an experience for me and I wouldn't change any of it."