Training Camp | 2021

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Mick Shots: Hard And Harder Knocks For Sure

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OXNARD, Calif. – You didn't want it to end, did you?

That's Hard Knocks: Dallas Cowboys, Tuesday night on HBO.

I know I didn't, and I knew a lot of what took place in Episode 1, and a lot I didn't. Just wanted the episode to continue, but guess we'll have to wait until next Tuesday.

Yep, it was that good. The content. The camera work. The Production. The story telling.

Not sure we've ever heard Dak Prescott detail his gruesome injury suffered last year on Oct. 11 against the Giants in such painful detail. He opened up like never before, and evidently, hadn't totally "buried" the injury as he hoped to one of the last times he spoke to us during the offseason.

And we sure as heck hadn't seen the scars left behind by the two procedures to repair the dislocation and compound fracture of his right ankle, certainly hard to watch take place again and how he was bound and determined to twist his ankle back in place right there on the field so he could continue to play.

So Dak, right.

But the NFL Films crew totally captured his personality that you might not have been aware of, his passion to compete and take care of his team, how he became indignant when head coach Mike McCarthy was trying to limit his playing time early in camp.

Then there was that of Ezekiel Elliott's personality and competitive drive, too, at 26 but still rather child-like how he enjoys life. Gosh, how old were you when trying to wrap your first present?

And, if you hadn't done your pre-draft homework, the passion to compete that burns inside Micah Parsons, along with his innate talent, especially with those close-up action shots from the Pro Football Hall of Fame game.

We also learned they gave players snacks during practice at Penn State, because as Micah says, "The Lion's always hungry." And if you didn't believe a guy 6-3, 246 could run a 4.39 40 at his Pro Day this spring, you had to feel his speed on a few of those video clips, and if not, just take a mic-ed up Dak's word for it when he said after one play, "Holy-S he's fast."

Also bet you have a different opinion of McCarthy's personality, too, thanks to how he lets his hair down in front of his players, cameras or no cameras, and then how crestfallen he was when Cowboys head trainer Jim Maurer told him he was pulling Dak out of practice with a strained shoulder muscle.

But how do you beat his speech to the team that one day, when trying to tell the guys how important it has to be to win a Super Bowl, and that's the goal, nothing else matters:

"Charlie F-around, he don't work here. High school Harry, get his ass out the door. This is about winning. This is about winning a world championship. Period. Period. That's all that matters. Going to the playoffs ain't good enough. Having a winning season is not good enough. Getting into the championship game is not good enough, OK."

OK Mike, we get the message.

And as the Cowboys wrap up the Oxnard portion of training camp on Thursday, setting off to Phoenix for Friday's preseason game against the Cardinals, we got us some shots galore.

  • Dak Almost Back: What a sight for the Cowboys sore eyes, Dak ramping up his throwing on Tuesday, off on the other field from where practice was taking place, simulating running plays and throwing passes to Amari Cooper, who has finally been taken off PUP. Wasn't throwing with top velocity, but throwing passes anywhere from five to 20 yards to Coop, and some probably a little longer than that when throwing 17- to 20-yard outs. Probably threw in the vicinity of 30 passes as the two moved up and down the field without the ball seemingly ever hitting the ground. Then on Wednesday, Dak actually got into some passing drills, saying afterward he felt no residual effect on his right shoulder that has kept him out of practice and team drills since July 28, the team's first day in pads, a hard knock to the Cowboys for sure. "I wanted to keep throwing today, but Britt told me no," Dak said of Britt Brown, the Cowboys associate trainer in charge of rehab who has been working with Dak all offseason rehabbing his ankle, Dak also saying he will have another MRI on Monday. Now just so you know, Dak strained the lat muscle than runs from your back up under your armpit, and it's my understanding the strain was caused by an awkward arm slot on a deep throw, Dak calling it a "freak accident." Am told this is a common pitching injury and normal recovery time in nearly four weeks of rest. Dak has begun throwing now after two weeks of rest, and likely will continue the same progression next week when camp resumes at Ford Center in The Star. Know he has yet to really cut it loose, though. Potentially playing a series or so in one preseason game is a possibility, but as they say, this all is a process. Or as offensive coordinator Kellen Moore points out, "Have to view this a long-term perspective not a short-term perspective."
  • Real Hard Knocks: Want some actual hard knocks from camp. First-year fullback Sewo Olonilua from TCU who spent last year on the practice squad had his hand in the air to make this 53-man roster as a fullback, a one-back and special teams players. Unfortunately, Olonilua suffered a neck injury in the Hall of Fame preseason game, and it's my understanding when McCarthy says it will be awhile, awhile might be a few months, likely heading him straight to injured reserve. In his absence, rookie free agent Nick Ralston has begun taking Olonilua's snaps at fullback with the offense.
  • Quinn Quips: Get a load of some of new defensive coordinator Dan Quinn's perspectives. On becoming a much-improved defense: "One of the first meetings I had, if you're going to be a good defense, you better be a good tackling team." On playing team defense: "Our military certainly does team better than anyone in the world." On how he analyzed what he was doing on defense after being fired last season as the Falcons head coach: "I thought I just didn't want to rinse and repeat, and say, 'Here is he package, this is what we do.' This package is truly new where we're going."
  • Pay Attention: If you are wondering what to look for come Friday night against the Cardinals, try a few of these. How efficient Garrett Gilbert is while trying to convince the Cowboys he is worthy of being Dak's backup. Then the backup tackle spot, which after Josh Ball's high ankle sprain, has come down to veteran Ty Nsekhe and second-year tackle Terence Steele, if not the free-agency field at some point. Still believe Zack Martin is the backup swing tackle until someone proves otherwise. Then there is starting left guard Connor Williams trying to also man the backup center position, and if the Rams practice is any indication, he might get some snaps there with the first-team offense Friday night. Keep an eye on his snaps. The Cowboys want him to prove he can handle that chore, which would save some cap $$$ and a spot on the game-day roster if he can do both. And they seem comfortable if Williams has to move to center with inserting Connor McGovern at guard. There, that ought to get you started. Oh, and also how well this team handles the Cardinals running game, especially if quarterback Kyler Murray gets some snaps, the guy who ran 10 times for 74 of the Cardinals 261 yards rushing last year in a 38-10 beating of the Cowboys.
  • Kicking It Around: Veteran placekicker Greg Zuerlein is ramping up his kicking activity here at camp following back surgery in early May. He has begun taking one and two-step approaches kicking off the ball holder in practice these past couple of days. And Wednesday he was hitting field goals from 45 yards off the holder. Says special teams coordinator John Fassel, the veteran kicker really only needs three to four weeks preparation for the season. Punter Hunter Niswander though is expected once again handle kickoffs and placekicks Friday at State Farm Stadium.
  • Oxnard Over & Outs: The NFL finally has finalized injured reserve rules for the 2021 season, and much like last year teams are permitted to have unlimited players return from IR after missing just three games, but must be on the 53-man roster after Sept. 1 to be eligible to return once placed on IR . . . Free safety Malik Hooker, recently signed to a one-year, $920,000 contract, with $490,000 of his base salary guaranteed, practiced lightly in pads for the first time on Wednesday in his return from last year's Achilles surgery . . . Still considering Ben DiNucci a developmental quarterback, Kellen Moore says what he must improve upon is "get his eyes right and anticipate his throws." . . . New secondary coach Joe Whitt Jr., when asked about Jourdan Lewis playing in the slot, offered on his own, "Got to talk about Mo Canady (too) . . . We need to say, hey, we need to find a package for both guys as well. (Canady) has played outside as well. Can kick Mo outside and play opposite of (Trevon) Diggs."

A short and sweet final word this week from Cowboys COO Stephen Jones, but a meaningful one illustrating the high level of competition and potential depth on this roster, especially at cornerback, safety and linebacker.

"We got 65 guys who can make this team," Jones said of the 53-man roster.

Sweet.

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