FRISCO, Texas – Bradlee Anae wasn't an early draft pick. Francis Bernard wasn't drafted at all.
But both Cowboys rookies thrived in a hard-nosed, successful defense at the University of Utah – and now they're both pushing for roster spots as training camp winds down.
Anae, drafted in the fifth round in April, and Bernard, signed as a rookie free agent in May, were first-team All-Pac-12 selections on a Utah team that reached the cusp of the College Football Playoff. The Utes ranked third in the nation in total defense and were one of three FBS teams (Clemson, Ohio State) ranked in the top 10 in offensive and defensive yards per play.
"It started kind of with our culture as a program there," Anae said. "Also with the details, the little things, but overall just the culture there is just blue collar. Kind of reminds me of over here what we've got at the Cowboys."
Anae was a consensus All-American pass rusher who set a Utah record with 30.0 sacks. Now he's competing for a backup spot on a talented defensive end depth chart headlined by veterans DeMarcus Lawrence, Aldon Smith and Everson Griffen.
"If there's one word I'd use to describe Bradlee, he's relentless," Bernard said. "He's one guy that we could be doing half-speed drills but Bradlee's got one speed. He's always going full speed. That's just the way he's trained himself and the way he's always been. But it's been fun being here with him, and it's nice having one of your college teammates here."
Bernard was a priority free agent for the Cowboys after the draft. He played two years at Utah after transferring from BYU and had a breakout senior season as a starter, finishing second on the team with 85 tackles along with two interceptions.
He stood out on the first day of pads in mid-August, intercepting a Dak Prescott pass in a three-on-three drill for what would've been a pick-six.
Veteran Sean Lee has yet to practice since camp started, and second-year linebacker Luke Gifford has also spent time working with the athletic training staff in recent days, so there have been extra reps available for Bernard in practice. Those snaps are particularly valuable this year with no preseason games due to the nation's COVID-19 crisis.
The Cowboys are on their home stretch of the training camp schedule. Head coach Mike McCarthy said the team has one more scheduled for Saturday. The NFL's roster cuts deadline (80 to 53 players) is 3 p.m. Central Time on Saturday.
"I just kind of look at every day like a game. I can't take my foot off the pedal," Bernard said. "Every single day my foot is full throttle, showing up to work like everything's on the line. So I treat every single day like a game. Every single time I'm out there I try to go through my progressions just like I would if there was 80,000 people watching."