Training Camp | 2020

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Mick Shots: Beginning To Look Like Football

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FRISCO, Texas – Getting closer and closer.

Sure sign, Cowboys are already trimming the 80-man roster.

On Thursday they will begin preparing for the Los Angeles Rams.

They've already begun practicing with artificial crowd noise, especially since no fans are being allowed at SoFi Stadium for the Sept. 13 season opener against the LA Rams.

And, there are ads running on TV for the NFL season opener, a week from Thursday, H-Town vs. K.C.

Can't wait.

Plus, the shots are growing.

  • Fuller Plate: When Dak Prescott is asked Wednesday about difference in last year's offense and this year's offense, he didn't point out plays or formations or play calls, he surprisingly had this to say: "I been asked to do some things that I've wanted to take control of, putting it more in my hands, whether it's getting from one play to another, whether it's calling my own plays at certain times during two-minute, all things that makes the quarterback thing special. More than anything, happy I get to take on these decisions and some of the things I'm being asked to." Well, probably not surprising after last year's performance, Mike McCarthy putting more on Dak's plate.
  • Old-Time Bubble: Certainly this 2020 year bubble has taken on a new meaning. But this week here comes the old bubble, players on the edge of making the 53-man roster. By my count, the Cowboys had roughly a dozen players in the category while working to move from an 80-man roster to no more than 53 by 3 p.m. Saturday. They already have begun working on the whittling, releasing veteran receiver Devin Smith, backup center/guard candidate Adam Redmond, last year's practice squad quarterback Clayton Thorson, rookie tight end Charlie Taumoepeau, first-year OT Pace Murphy and release/injured OTs Mitch Hyatt and Wyatt Miller, both likely to revert back to the team's injured reserve if they clear waivers. Basically, some obvious cuts, maybe the only ones on my bubble list would have been Smith and Redmond.
  • Cutdown Time: Yes, teams must go from 80 to 53 by 3 p.m. Saturday. Then the waiver claim period for players released ends at 11 a.m. Sunday when they become free agents. And at noon, teams can start signing those free-agent players to their practice squads. And this is key: The Top51 rule on the salary cap, meaning at this point teams only count the top 51 player salaries against the cap, expires on Sept. 10, thus the entire 53-man roster now counts, and you had better not be over $198.2 million limit.
  • The Squad: New practice squad rules for the 2020 season precipitated by COVID-19. First, teams are allowed 16 players on the practice squad. And even a bigger adjustment, teams can keep up to six players with no maximum for accrued seasons. But again, players must first clear waivers on Sunday before they can be signed to the practice squad. As for the other 12 practice squad players, teams can have up to four who have earned no more than two accrued seasons (no game limitations) and players who were on an active list for fewer than nine regular-season games during their only accrued seasons. And while players on the practice squad are basically free agents, teams can now protect up to four players per week from being poached by other teams. Another significant change would be teams now can promote one or two players to increase rosters from 53 to 55 on game days, and then those players will revert back to the practice squad after the game without having to clear waivers.
  • Amazing: This just goes to show you what daily testing for COVID-19, bubbles, masking and distancing will do for you. In the NFL testing of the 32 teams during training camp from Aug. 21-29, 58,621 tests were administered to a total of 8,739 players and team personnel – 23,279 tests to 2,747 players and 35,342 tests to 5,992 personnel. And guess what? Only 10 of those tests came back positive – four new confirmed positive tests among players and six new confirmed positives tests among team personnel. That comes to .017 percent positive tests, certainly crushing the national average. Now, can they all keep it going during the season. "I feel very good about being able to go through this season, and I'll feel better after the second week, the third week, and we'll play it as we go, this is option quarterback," Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said. "This is ambiguity at its best."
  • Masking Up: So think about those numbers. Testing doesn't keep people from being infected by the coronavirus. But just maybe – just maybe – masking up, social distancing, not going out to restaurants and bars or hanging out with people not following such protocols really works. In fact, can tell you the other day bumped into Jerry Jones as we were both heading up on an elevator out here at The Star. And we both had our masks on.
  • Got To Know: When listening to Cowboys new swing tackle Cam Erving, made me think of this all-time quote from former Cowboys head coach Barry Switzer, when faced with a question from a highly uniformed reporter, saying, "You don't know what you don't know, and believe me, you don't know." Think about it, tangled in don't knows, he made amazing sense. Well, Erving, a Black man raised in southern Georgia, was talking about racism in America, pointing out he had been called the N-word over the past two years, "and it's 2020," got into the don't knows, pointing out, "What you don't know, you don't know, but what you don't know you can learn." Makes total sense.
  • More Cam Sense: Erving also put in perspective protests and players intent on trying their best to promote social justice with this: "We are fighting for the next generation." Can say that again.
  • No Trust Issue: Here is when you know the quarterback has trust in you. During a recent two-minute drill, Prescott opened the session with three consecutive passes to tight end Blake Jarwin. And these weren't of the dump-off variety. They were on legit routes, and either the Cowboys defense was not aware of No. 89 or just couldn't cover your new starting tight end.
  • Greg-Omatic: Not trying to jinx the guy, but new special teams coach John Fassel knew what he was doing sticking with veteran kicker Greg Zuerlein when the Cowboys released last year's final three-game kicking savior Kai Forbath before camp even began. Zuerlein, who struggled last year with a quad injury, limiting his practice time during game week, had gone 29-or-29 during team sessions between 33 and 48 yards before he finally missing a 60-yard attempt Sunday during Cowboys Night at AT&T Stadium. But on his re-attempt from 60, he nailed it, so 30-for-31 during training camp. Appears to this humble scribe he's healthy and back to his ol' self after making just 72.7 percent of his attempts last year for the Rams.
  • Nothing To Chance: Even coaches have to practice, and that is why not only on Sunday at the stadium but also during the team sessions Monday at Ford Center, the coaches projected to be in the booth on game day were in the booth during practice with headsets on. While seems offensive coordinator Kellen Moore will remain on the sideline calling plays, as he did last year, defensive coordinator Mike Nolan has been upstairs in the coaching booth sending in the defensive calls directly to middle linebacker Leighton Vender Esch.

And last shot goes to the numbers game the Cowboys will be deliberating over the next 2½ days. Two running backs or three? Fullback or no, or maybe an extra tight end? Got 10 worthy offensive linemen? Five receivers most likely, or six?Thinking 10 defensive linemen. Six or all seven linebackers? And when comes to the secondary, for sure 10, but what's the breakdown since there is so much corner/safety versatility back there, six and four, five and five?

About to find out.

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