FRISCO, Texas – It's ironic, but the true beginning of the Cowboys' offseason program seems to start with a baseball event.
That was once again the case on Monday evening, as some of the Cowboys' biggest names took to home plate at Dr Pepper Ballpark for the sixth annual Reliant Home Run Derby.
"I just think it's a great day," said Cowboys coach Jason Garrett. "It's a great cause. Proceeds go to The Salvation Army. Reliant and the Cowboys get together and our players come out here and take some of their free time to take part in this thing."
Garrett was once again named the event's champion for his efforts in the batter's box, but the entire group did a world of good for The Salvation Army. All told, the Cowboys raised $50,000 – with their East team, led by Garrett, pulling in front for the victory.
Garrett led all comers by raising $4,900 on his own, followed closely by Jason Witten with $4,800 and Orlando Scandrick with $4,600.
Some of the Cowboys' other most noteworthy names – such as Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott, Dez Bryant, Travis Frederick, Zack Martin, Tyron Smith, Byron Jones and Jeff Heath – were on hand to try their efforts at bat.
"It's everything," Prescott said. "We get to come out here and raise some money for a great cause. It's special."
For many of the players, it was their first visit with the media in several months. Here are some of the highlights from the Cowboys who talked about getting ready for the offseason.
TE Jason Witten on going through an offseason without Tony Romo:
"The locker room has changed. Without Tony and Doug (Free) that's 24 years of playing experience between the two of them. There's no question those guys have had unbelievable career. The cycle of the football locker room is not going to change. We just have to do more – all of us. We have good leaders. Our focus right now is getting back to work. We're not satisfied with making the playoffs and being the 1-seed. It's much bigger than that. Now is the time we re-establish that."
Witten on Dak becoming more of a leader now in his second season:
"Dak's earned that what he did as a rookie. But he understands that you have to go back at it and establish it again. A guy in his second year has to do that. That's what I have to do in my 15th year. He's our quarterback and he's earned that. His voice has to be heard. As he moves forward, he'll be more comfortable with that. I can't say enough good things about how he's gone about it so far."
RB Ezekiel Elliott on what he wants to work on this offseason:
"I just want to work on being a more dominant, second-level runner. I think a couple of times last year I could've been more elusive when I got to the second level. I just want to focus on altering my runs."
Safety Byron Jones on the possibility of being moved to corner:
"Right now my home is still safety. Hopefully we keep it that way for now."
Byron Jones on being one of the oldest players in the secondary:
"I was like wait a minute, where did everyone go? It's crazy. Guys just don't stay around. That's part of football. But I have to just step up as a leader and I have to use this as my opportunity."
Safety Jeff Heath on his opportunity to compete for a starting job:
"It's a big opportunity. I'm excited about it. I think I'm ready for the opportunity. It's my fifth year. I'm not the same player I was. I think I've gotten better every year. I'm excited and I'm going to do my best."
Center Travis Frederick on the loss of Ron Leary:
"I think (losing) Ron is almost as big as a hole, if not more, than losing Doug. Just because he was able to come in and play so seamlessly. Denver got a great player."
Travis Frederick on the possibility of La'el Collins moving out to right tackle:
"Yeah, you can tell when you see him on the field, how athletic he is, and how explosive he can be. Those are good qualities for a tackle, as far as measurables. He's got long arms. And good things going for him. If he makes that transition, that's going to be helpful."
Guard Zack Martin on the importance Doug Free had on him as a young player:
"He meant everything. To be able to come in and play next to a veteran like that, was huge. He helped me progress probably faster if he wasn't there. I'm going to miss him. But we've got a lot of guys who can step in and do a nice job."
Tackle Tyron Smith on being able to work with rookie Taco Charlton:
"I can help him out as best as I can. I know he's working his butt off to come in and get ready."