OXNARD, Calif. – The Cowboys are heading home from training camp – a day earlier than originally scheduled.
At the end of Thursday morning's practice, head coach Jason Garrett surprised the players with the rewarding news that camp would break early on one condition: One of six selected offensive or defensive linemen must catch a punt from Chris Jones.
Veteran defensive tackle Nick Hayden nominated the rookie linemen to send the team back to Dallas, and second-round pick Randy Gregory caught the first attempt to roaring cheers from his teammates.
Gregory said he hadn't returned punts since high school when he played running back.
"I didn't want to over-run it or not go up to it far enough," Gregory said with a laugh. "I've done it before; it's really not hard. I lost some footing there a little bit and was just trying to make sure I got under it."
Of course, catch or no catch, the team's plan was to break camp and leave Thursday. Garrett said the team's operations staff did a great job preparing for the early departure.
The Cowboys spent a total of 31 days in Oxnard, their 10th training camp on the West Coast since 2001.
Garrett has been pleased with the overall work.
"I think our guys have worked hard," Garrett said. "We've been here for a long time, laid a great foundation for our team and had a really good week this week – two good days of practice leading up to this morning practice – and I think it's time to go home."
The Cowboys will continue prepping for the regular season back in Dallas. They have two home preseason games left – Saturday against Minnesota and the following Thursday against Houston – with the final roster cut to 53 players coming Sept. 5. The team must trim the roster from 90 to 75 players on Tuesday, Sept. 1.
From Day One in Oxnard, the biggest date on the calendar has been Sunday, Sept. 13 – the regular-season opener against the Giants.
"I thought it (camp) was outstanding," Garrett said. "I thought we did a really good job in the offseason program getting ourselves ready for training camp. We believe in a rigorous training camp. We believe in getting in a football uniform and pads and practicing football and establishing the identity of the team in practice every day.
[embeddedad0]"We have the right kind of guys on our team who come to work -- they don't say a whole lot -- they just come to work every day. I feel good about where we are."
- Linebacker Rolando McClain, who missed all of camp practices rehabbing a knee injury, showed more improvement Thursday even off to the side. McClain was in shoulder pads with the rest of the team, another sign that he's getting closer to a full recovery. Of course, McClain is facing a four-game suspension to start the regular season.
- The total fan attendance for the 2015 camp was 63,535, making this year the camp since 2010 when the split camp in both Oxnard and San Antonio, totaling 73,329.
- Thursday's practice was closed to fans and visitors but it was star-studded list of celebrities this year, including entertainers Denzel Washington, Jamie Foxx, Dean Cain, Rob Riggle, Ty Burrell and NBA star Chris Bosh.
Cole Beasley – Of course, he had to have one more great day of camp. Beasley had arguably the best camp of any player and he finished it off strong with another solid day. Beasley is such a tough mismatch and he displayed it Thursday, consistently beating coverage from the slot. He caught a deep touchdown pass from Romo in what was the final team play of camp.
Greg Hardy – Several good rushes from the veteran on Thursday, even registering a sack in the team period. Rushing from both end and tackle, Hardy has started to come on strong here of late, giving all Cowboys' linemen problems with his powerful bull-rush moves.
Dan Bailey– While many Cowboys fans are starting to get a bit worried about some recent misses from the usually-reliable kicker, Bailey finished camp drilling all of his field goals in the team period, including one of 47 yards near the end of practice. Obviously he'll be measured mostly by his production in games, but Bailey at least wrapped up camp looking like his normal self.
Play of the Day
While the most memorable play is the last one – Gregory's punt return catch that sent the team home to Dallas – there was another great play by the team's two oldest veterans. In the team period, Romo sold a play-action fake and lobbed a perfect post pass to Jason Witten, who was in between two defenders. Witten made the catch and even went to the ground with a hard landing, but got up, of course, and went back to the huddle. One more time here in camp – Romo to Witten.
Aug. 21 – Signed DT Carlif Taylor
Aug. 20 – Signed LB Dakorey Johnson, WR Phil Bates, WR Edmond Gates
Aug. 20 – Claimed CB Rod Sweeting
Aug. 20 – Released CB Brandon Smith, WR Reggie Dunn, WR Deontay Greenberry, RB Lache Seastrunk
Unofficial Injury Report:
WR Dez Bryant (hamstring)
WR Devin Street (foot/ankle)
QB Brandon Weeden (head)
WR David Porter (groin)
RB Michael Hill (head)
S Jeff Heath (head)
G Zack Martin (stinger)
LB Anthony Hitchens (foot)
DE Kenneth Boatright (neck)
OL Chaz Green (hip)
LB Mark Nzeocha (knee)
LB Rolando McClain (knee)
CB Orlando Scandrick (knee; out for season)