OXNARD, Calif. – Let's get started again, let's get started again.
And start the Cowboys did out here on Wednesday at their River Ridge complex under mid-70s temperatures, nearly a 30-degree break from the recent Texas heat.
The players, they went through their yearly conditioning test.
The owner, COO and head coach, they took part in a comprehensive 45-minute press conference, packed with news, opinions and stances, anywhere from owner Jerry Jones' opinion on the job security of his head coach, Jason Garrett, to his feelings on Terrell Owens making the decision not to attend the Pro Football Hall of Fame inductions.
And as usual, right from the start, us media folks were hot on the trail of news stories and the status of this player and that player.
Welcome to training camp, a nirvana for more Shots than we can shake a stick at. So, uh, let's go.
· Always Somethin' II: This is my 33rd Dallas Cowboys training camp, and like Jerry, my 30th consecutive one, and as I've come to know, there is always somethin' to worry teams right from the start of training camp. Previously for the Cowboys the majority of those worries had been over at least one if not four or five contract holdouts. This time, it's David Irving – yes, Irving again. Irving, along with the Cowboys, have decided he has some serious "off-field" issues needing his undivided attention, and they mutually have agreed attending training camp at this time would not be a good idea and placed him, along with safety Kavon Frazier, on the non-football injury list. No idea when the defensive tackle suspended for the first four games of the season, will return, but for sure won't be available for the first four games. Sooo Jihad Ward, this is your life – grand opportunity to jump start your NFL career. And with Maliek now on active/PUP (foot), probably needing at least a couple of more weeks to rehab from surgery to repair his fifth metatarsal, guys such as Datone Jones, Brian Price, Richard Ash and Lewis Neal have the opportunity of a lifetime.
· He's Back: That's right, No. 94 is in the house, Randy Gregory showing up for the start of training camp and "unconditionally" now reinstated by the NFL after serving his full year suspension. Looked good at 242 pounds, but the Cowboys are being cautious, knowing he needs extra strength and conditioning work and not even asking him to take the conditioning test with the rest of the team. The team starts camp practice on Thursday, but the first two days are basically a minicamp practice – no pads. Patience with Gregory will be a virtue since he has played all of two games over the past two seasons.
· Hot Seat: So of course, in everyone's fascination of moving on from a current head coach, even one producing three winning seasons in the past four, Jerry Jones was asked if this is "a playoff or bust season for Jason?" His answer was a very succinct "No!" And then holding his hands up, almost apologetically for being short, saying, "That's the best answer I can give –fairest one." And if you need to hear it with your own two ears, just fast-forward to the end of the press conference. And that, after 45 minutes, was an ender.
· Standing Up: While COO Stephen Jones was answering a few questions after the press conference, once again the National Anthem issue came up, and Stephen, like Jerry, basically said with the Cowboys the policy is pretty cut-and-dried, that the Cowboys will stand for the anthem with their foot on the line. Non-negotiable. Or as Stephen said, "I was always brought up when you work for somebody, and they're the boss, you play by their rules." Nuff said.
· Great Divide: There has been some scratching their heads over why the Cowboys and Pro Bowl defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence did not even engage in negotiations for a long-term deal at the deadline for franchised players, Stephen Jones points out, "I just think the delta between what he rightfully wanted" and what the Cowboys were willing to pay was too great to overcome. So, the Cowboys thinking is, you did it once, great, and now we're hoping you do it again, meaning another double-digit sack season to go with his 14.5 from last year and then we'll talk again.
· Sneaky Zinger: Actually, Jerry Jones was in rare form on Wednesday for a man turning 76 Oct. 13. During the continuing peppering over Garrett's job security, and after a long, involved answer supporting Garrett as his head coach, Jerry finished by saying, ". . . that Jason is better and the right man for this job even though he didn't get coach of the year last year." Not sure everyone caught his sarcasm, since one year (2016) Garrett's the Coach of the Year and after a 9-7 season loaded with extenuating circumstances there are those that want to put him on the firing line. Here's hoping like thinkers all had a good day of work today.
· Short Shots: So, guess is when Cowboys' first-team defense lines up this week, the initial starting defensive tackles will be Ward and Datone Jones . . . When the Papa John's controversy came up, Jerry Jones distanced himself from those dropping sponsorships with the pizza company after comments from founder John Schnatter by pointing out, "They do not have the same relationship that the Cowboys have with the Papa John's business in Texas. We own the Papa John's in Texas . . . the bottom line, the Cowboys, we own those stores, it's not an endorsement." The Jones Family has a percentage of ownership in 50 stores in Texas . . . . Oh, and Jerry Jones strongly pointed out Owens is making a big mistake foregoing his Hall of Fame induction ceremony, saying, "He is making a mistake." . . . And let's finish with this parting shot, one that keeps coming up time and again about this particular Cowboys team moving forward without the likes of a Romo, Church, Witten, Dez and Scandrick, and one worth putting context on this Cowboys team, this time coming from Jerry Jones: "We have a a young team."