FRISCO, Texas – Call it a pleasant surprise, or call it a testament to hard work. But Damontae Kazee has been on the field for the start of the Cowboys' offseason practices, and that's not something everyone expected to see.
That's the stigma that comes with an Achilles tendon injury – something Kazee seemed to realize. It's also something he's combating from the get-go, as he worked through a full regimen of drills and reps on Tuesday afternoon.
"I jumped right into it when I got up here – running and jumping, doing every DB drill with all of them, since the day I got out here," he said after practice.
It's been a long seven months for Kazee, who was in his third year as a starter in Atlanta when he tore the Achilles last October. If the pain of the injury wasn't enough, it also came during the final year of his rookie contract, prompting plenty of uncertainty during the leadup to free agency.
"Let me just tell you about the offseason: I saw the real side," he said. "Not having football -- and I've been playing this for over 20 years now – I didn't know what to do. I did so much film watching and doing everything and knowing my contract was up, getting injured. I was battling a lot of things, but I could only control the controllable."
In this case, the controllable is the rehab, which Kazee said he began as soon as his cast was off. He got enough of a handle on it that, after a brief visit during March, the Cowboys felt comfortable signing him on a one-year deal. After facing the unknown for so long, Kazee said it was a big stress release.
"There was a couple teams out there trying to get me, but I wanted to come to a team that I know we're going to fight and get to the playoffs and get to the Super Bowl," he said.
The defense might be different, but at least one part of that is familiarity. Kazee signed on at the same time as former Falcon and new linebacker Keanu Neal. On top of that, both guys played for years under defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, who was their head coach in Atlanta.
Neal and Kazee were both asked about Quinn on Tuesday, and both veterans responded with impressive reviews.
"I know he's a player coach. And I know he looks for dogs," Kazee said. "He wants people running to the ball every play, everything. And that's one reason why I came here, you know – a coach that I can fight for like that, I'm going to give him my all."
This certainly seems like a strong start – albeit it is early. These offseason practices are unpadded and non-contact, so it's not exactly full speed. But for Kazee to be running and cutting at this point is awfully encouraging, as he continues to take steps in the process. To hear him tell it, it's a process that he's working on all the time, even when he's away from work.
"It goes with a lot of calf raises, basically," he said. "When I'm at home, I'm even doing rehab. If I'm walking upstairs, I'm doing tippy toes. That's how I've got to do it."
To this point, it sounds like good news for Kazee. And with four years of experience and 34 starts to his name, that can only be good news for the Cowboys as they continue to work toward training camp.