It's been three and a half weeks since the Cowboys were home in Dallas, the 90-man camp roster spending its formative period in California, for camp in Oxnard, preseason games against the Oakland and San Diego, plus two joint practices with the Chargers.
While practices tend to run together in the mind and preseason games don't count, the Golden State trip has been anything but forgettable. Here, DallasCowboys.com writers Nick Eatman, Josh Ellis, Bryan Broaddus, Rowan Kavner and Jonathan Auping relive the most indelible moments of the most important part of the season for the 2012 team.
It doesn't matter about a holding penalty in the backfield that wiped out the play from the start. Doesn't matter that a toe might or might not have touched the back line of the end zone. The fact that Dez Bryant could physically leap up the way he did to catch a Tony Romo throw-away pass against the Chargers is my top moment of camp. It's not only the best play I've seen in a while, and maybe in several years, but what it symbolizes could be crucial for this team this year. Just having a talent like Dez is an advantage that needs to be utilized. It was a play that didn't even count in a preseason game that doesn't count. But you can count on the fact that not only will Tony Romo remember what kind of play Dez is capable of making, but these opposing defensive backs have to be aware of the freakish talent they will be trying to cover.
There have been a ton of images from this camp that will stick with me for a long time, beginning with the opening press conference and Jerry Jones' expression of hope for the Cowboys to return to, umm, glory. But how about this one: It's the last practice in Oxnard and the players are dragging a little bit. Jason Garrett calls them together and tells them that if Dan Bailey can nail a short field goal, he'll cancel the rest of the workout and take everybody to the beach. Of course Bailey nailed it. It shows the kind of creativity Garrett has as a leader, finding a pressure situation to challenge a guy who seems to have ice in his veins, and at the same time bringing the team together.
My training camp memory from this summer deals with Cole Beasley, how he showed so much promise then walked away, only to return with a chance to help the squad on offense. At the time when Beasley walked away from the team, I spoke about how hard it was for scouts to measure a player's heart. With Beasley, I never questioned the heart, but when he walked away I was disappointed, to say the least, for the guys that brought him in. The minute he stepped on the field at Valley Ranch, he didn't play like a little guy and, as a scout, that gives you hope. I will never fully know what happened with Beasley, but now that he is back he is once again gaining the trust and confidence of his teammates. This is not an easy game to play when your heart is not in it, but I am glad to see Beasley had a change in his.
Brandon Carr was brought in to be the staple of a secondary that was restocked to create more game-changing plays and turnovers than it had in the past. In just his second preseason game as a member of the Cowboys, Carr picked off two passes from Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers. One ball was underthrown and the other was mishandled by the receiver, yet Carr came up with the passes when he needed to. The second preseason game symbolized what the shutdown cornerback can bring to a first-team defense that hadn't allowed any points through two games.
The injuries dominated headlines throughout camp. From Miles to Dez, from Costa to Claiborne. Even if Jason Garrett sugarcoated it every week by claiming it was part of the game, the numbers going into the San Diego game proved the Cowboys had the injury bug worse than most teams: three starters out for the Chargers versus nine for the Cowboys.