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First Week Absurdly Condensed

IRVING, Texas -This is going to come up, not sure when, but definitely will be an issue for the Dallas Cowboys at some point.

Talkin' about their schedule.

No, not the 2012 NFL schedule in total. We've been all over that for months now. It's a toughie, playing just three home games the first 10 weeks of the season, the fourth not arriving at Cowboys Stadium until the Sunday before Thanksgiving. Man.

And you know, not so much the start to training camp, which has the Cowboys beginning three days later than the New York Giants, their season-opening opponent, just because the Giants first preseason game is on a Friday and the Cowboys is on the following Monday. Teams are allowed to open camps no sooner than 15 days prior to their first preseason game. We have umpteen rules you know these days with the new CBA.

This has more to do with once the Cowboys break training camp in Oxnard, Calif., encompassing their final two preseason games, preparation for the Sept. 5 season opener against those defending Super Bowl champion Giants at MetLife Stadium in their first-ever Wednesday night game in 53 seasons and roster decisions that must be made in the interim.

We are going to work a little backwards so you totally understand the strange predicament the Cowboys – and somewhat the Giants, too – are in preparing for a Wednesday night season opener, this one being nationally televised by NBC.

Normally, if the Cowboys were preparing for a Sunday game, the first full practice would be held on Wednesday, with the possibility of a short workout on Monday and the mandatory off day on Tuesday. Well, since this is a Wednesday game, Saturday, Sept. 1 becomes the equivalent of Wednesday for them.

So the plan for the Cowboys will be to practice Saturday, Sunday and Monday, hold a walk-through on Tuesday and then climb aboard their charter flight to Newark later that day since they are required to arrive at least 24 hours prior to the 8:20 p.m. (ET) kickoff time.

To accommodate this strange, mid-week kickoff to the season that normally would occur on a Thursday – the NFL didn't want to bump heads with President Obama's acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention on Sept. 6 – the Cowboys and Giants final preseason games will be played the previous Wednesday night, Aug. 29.

Fair enough, right, since Thursday will be like a Monday – short and sweet, with postgame lift and run – and Friday will serve as the normal Tuesday day off.

Ah, but here is where things start getting sticky for the Cowboys – and Giants. Plus, remember the rest of the league will play their final preseason games on Thursday night, thus giving them nine full days to prepare for their openers, and 10 to the Cowboys and Giants final preseason opponents.

That's just the start of this inequity. Rosters must be trimmed to their maximum of 53 by 8 p.m. Friday, Aug. 31. OK fine, everyone is in the same boat there. But remember, the Cowboys must begin practice for the Giants game on Saturday.

Well, teams are allowed an eight-man practice squad, which can't be put together earlier than 11 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 1. Guys released must clear waivers before being eligible to be signed to the practice squad. But by 11 a.m. (CT) Saturday, the Cowboys and Giants will be halfway through their first day of game preparation.

Also, if the Cowboys had any desire to claim veterans off the waiver wire in time to participate that first week of the season, well, those claims won't be awarded under the current rules until 11 a.m. Saturday, too.

What are the Cowboys and Giants to do? Start preparation with no practice squad? Don't bother putting in waiver claims on veterans? Or maybe move the practices to late afternoon or evening, so at least a practice squad can be signed in time for that first practice of game week? Can't imagine any guys awarded on waiver claims can arrive at The Ranch in time for even a Saturday evening practice. Probably Sunday at the earliest.

Start practice late, say 8 p.m.? OK, but then the Cowboys would have to find a place with lights to practice, because, uh, Cowboys Stadium will be preoccupied with that Alabama-Michigan game.

Come on NFL, where's the love?

OK, know what you're thinking, and I momentarily thought the same thing, too. Well, just blow off the final preseason game against Miami, as is the norm anyway, and start practicing for the Giants earlier in the week. Good thought, but ...

Remember, that final preseason game is on a Wednesday night, meaning Tuesday is no more than a walk-through practice.

So you say then start practicing for the Giants game Sunday and Monday of that final week of preseason.

Whoa there, the Cowboys third preseason game is scheduled for Saturday, Aug. 25, against St. Louis at Cowboys Stadium. Under the new CBA rules, the team then must have either Sunday or Monday off, leaving only one full day to practice and have a walk-through before that preseason game.

So how about starting the preparation for the Giants the previous week? Not a bad idea, except one thing: Following Game 2 of the preseason, Aug. 18 at San Diego, the Cowboys are scheduled to remain there to practice against the Chargers after the mandatory Sunday day off on Monday and Tuesday, then after a visit to the Navy Seals Wednesday morning, fly home that afternoon. So they could again blow off preseason preparation for the third preseason game, Aug. 25 at Cowboys Stadium against the Dolphins, and devote Thursday's lone practice toward the Giants, but again, Friday is a walk-through day, which I suppose can be somewhat devoted to film work for the Giants.

Then they play on Saturday.

You with me on all this? We're talking, hey Cowboys and Giants, just hurry up and get ready.

Pretty taxing, right? And I didn't even bring up the coaching staff trying to come up with a game plan for the Giants, all the while trying to install an offense, defense and special teams foundation normally done during training camp, along with weeding the roster down to 75 by Aug. 27 and 53 by Aug. 31, along with deciding on a practice squad. Start on the Giants too soon, and some of those weeded out just might find their way to East Rutherford, N.J., and you would hope without their new playbook iPads.

Needless to say, those first three and a half weeks of training camp, from the July 24 reporting date for rookies, quarterbacks and selected rehabbing injured players at The Ranch to the July 30 start to the first full-team practice at the River Ridge Sports Complex through the Friday, Aug. 17 departure for San Diego, will be a highly-important, fast-paced, chock-full 25 days.

Not to mention trying to make up for starting three days behind the Giants through no fault of their own since the NFL decided to give ESPN a Cowboys-Raiders Monday night preseason game that first weekend of exhibition games.

The Cowboys have been appealing to the common senses of the NFL's higher authority on both of these matters, the delayed start to camp and the hurry-up prep for the opener, although owner Jerry Jones said he is quite "dubious" anything would be amended for the start of camp.

Now you know what the appealing Saints players feel like, don't you. Those appeals are being ruminated over by the very same people who decided when these two games would be played in the first place and just who would play in them, and somehow, strange as it might seem, the Cowboys got the short stick on both.

No computer made those scheduling decisions. Even my hp is smarter than that.

Makes you wonder, doesn't it, if someone up on Park Avenue is going like, oops, so sorry guys, or is sitting back, feet propped up on the desk chuckling.

I swear, most times it does, but sometimes it just doesn't pay to be America's Team.

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