The Cowboys are inching closer to the official start of training camp practice.
Via conference call, head coach Mike McCarthy said the team's first practice in shells is scheduled for next Friday, Aug. 14, after the players complete their required pre-camp ramp-up period.
The final two weeks of July, veterans and rookies passed an initial round of COVID-19 testing to gain access to The Star in Frisco, receive their equipment, take physicals and begin in-person meetings. The NFL's pre-camp phase comprises strength and conditioning workouts with a limited amount of walkthrough time. It's designed to help players get reacclimated to team activities after the pandemic forced the league to transition to a virtual spring offseason program.
Soon, McCarthy and his staff can finally begin evaluating the 80-man camp roster in competitive practice situations.
Picking this year's 53-man roster is a unique challenge, to say the least, with organized team activities canceled in the spring and zero preseason games expected around the league.
McCarthy, who previously coached the Green Bay Packers for 13 seasons, will rely on his experience and instincts.
"The reality is the other 31 teams are going through the exact same situation," he said. "You want to create the most competitive environment you possibly can, whether it's in the classroom – you can do that in way the meetings are designed.
"Next Friday will be our next practice in shells and we'll take that to a different level as far as the competition. But you're looking at everything. We're obviously at an 80-man roster point right now. We're going to do the best we can to make sure we pick the right guys."
The Cowboys have a couple different practice options: there's a grass field at The Star and the indoor Ford Center just a few steps away from the locker room. But McCarthy said his plan is to be on the outside grass every morning when practice starts.
"My personal goal is to be on the grass. That's just a personal preference," he said. "The weather and those types of things will factor into it. … I'm sure there will be days or a day or two where we may come inside with Ford Center."
The pandemic has created unprecedented day-to-day logistical demands for every team. But McCarthy credited the players, coaches and operations staff for creating a "very smooth" transition in adhering to the league's safety protocols for preventing any potential spread of the virus.
The Star's flexibility is also an advantage. The Cowboys have made the 12,000-seat Ford Center its new team meeting space with a stage constructed on the field and the players spread out in the stands.
"I'm very impressed with our players and our staff just the way everybody has recreated the flow that you always look for at this time of year," McCarthy said. "Because the days are not as long as they're going to be here starting with the end of next week."
So, shells at the end of next week. Pads are allowed to come on Aug. 17. Real, live on-field football practice is getting closer.