FRISCO, Texas – It's not officially summer, but you wouldn't know it from the looks of the Cowboys' OTAs.
Temperatures in North Texas have hovered in the 90s all week long, and the vibe on the Cowboys' practice fields Thursday afternoon felt an awful lot like triple digits. As Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy worked his guys toward next week's mandatory minicamp, it'd be easy to mistake this for the dog days of training camp.
That seemed to be the case with a pair of young players, John Ridgeway and Josh Ball, who got into a tussle late in the practice and had to be separated. As McCarthy himself noted, it's the type of stuff typically reserved for the second week of training camp.
"This was our hottest day and it got a little chipper out there today," McCarthy said.
Players are no doubt counting the days until next week, when the aforementioned mandatory minicamp ends and they're afforded some down time before the flight to Oxnard, Calif., for camp.
Even in these unpadded spring practices, it's a time to be mindful of that rapidly approaching date. In this, the third week of OTAs, the Cowboys were juggling a handful of notable absences. For a variety of reasons, starters like CeeDee Lamb, Jayron Kearse, Malik Hooker, Jourdan Lewis, Dante Fowler and Tarell Basham didn't participate in Thursday's practice.
Add that to the list of pre-existing injuries, such as Michael Gallup and Jabril Cox, and the roster was looking slightly depleted. Though, as McCarthy noted, that's not a bad thing in early June.
"We are watching reps. We have a number of guys dealing with minor things. Nothing major," he said. "We are just being smart this time of year. With a 90-man roster it works out."
It's also important to remember the goal of an offseason program. As McCarthy has noted before, the Cowboys are trying to get their schemes installed over the course of eight practices. With three months still to go until the games count, that doesn't all have to happen while also exposing players to risk.
"You get that done in the walk throughs, too," McCarthy said. "So the work is driven by the health and who is practicing that day. Just trying to be smart in the offseason."
The challenge for the next week is that the installs get tougher as the offseason program draws to a close. With veterans resting and young players getting more opportunity, that can lead to mistakes. McCarthy noted the sloppiness of some of Thursday's practice.
That's ok, though. Crispness is nice, but it's not the goal in June – not with so much work left to do. If the Cowboys have covered all the teaching material by the end of next week, roughly six weeks out from training camp, they'll have hit their goal.
"My goal is to get the eight installs in," McCarthy said. "To make sure the rookies and whole football team is totally exposed to everything that is going to be asked of them when we get back together in Oxnard."