FRISCO, Texas – Seemingly everywhere we go, people want to know our thoughts on this past weekend's rookie minicamp. Who stood out? What did this player or that player look like? Any sleepers?
Well, truth of the matter is, these days rookie minicamps have grown far more mini. Gone are the days of a bunch of one-on-one drills. No more simulated offense vs. defense. No more stories of this guy being out of shape. Of a Dez Bryant so exhausted he loses his breakfast on the sideline. No more Patrick Crayton's suffering a plantar fasciitis foot injury, yet pushing through to show head coach Bill Parcells how tough he is.
Nope, we are talking scaled down, more of a rookie orientation than football practice. We got to watch one practice, helmets, jerseys, shorts. Absolutely no contact. Mainly position drills. Special teams drills. Like one day. None of this going hard three days in a row with guys basically having spent the previous three months prepping for the Scouting Combine and Pro Days and having traveled here and there for pre-draft visits.
Not playing football. Why, even head coach Mike McCarthy missed the lone practice after undergoing a "back procedure," leaving owner Jerry Jones to address the 29 players present before Saturday's lone practice.
But at least we were able to conduct interviews with many of the participants in this rookie minicamp, learning more about them as people, how they handled interviews than anything really about their football ability.
Like, I can tell you first-round draft choice Mazi Smith is a big man. Just looks brutally strong.
I can tell you running back Deuce Vaughn is my size. The difference, though, being he's fast. I never was after the fifth grade. Not sure what happened with my elementary school speed.
So having said all that, let's take a shot at doling out some insight after two days of interviews, coordinators included, and having watched that mini-est of practices.
· Listen Up: Maybe the most informative answer came from defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, when asked if Micah Parsons is moving to a more permanent spot at defensive end. That conclusion recklessly arrived during the charity Home Run Derby a week previously when Parsons said he was working at one of those training facilities in Austin, Texas, wanting to put on more muscle to better handle those much larger offensive tackles in the running game at defensive end. His idea was "bulking up" to 255. Well, he was listed at 248 last year. So nothing extreme. But when Quinn was asked about this potential positional change from linebacker to defensive end, he succinctly said, "He's a pass-rushing linebacker. If you ever need position changes, come to me, OK?" Sound advice.
· Another Presumption: During the draft there was mention of the possibility of rehabbing right tackle Terence Steele moving to left guard. That way Tyler Smith could remain at left tackle and Tyron Smith could take over at right tackle, where he played after Steele suffered his season-ending torn ACL. If that's a possibility, Steele said it was news to him, but also pointed out that he's been told he's progressing in his rehab faster than most.
· Tight Roping: That is the newest surgery procedure running back Tony Pollard underwent to repair the torn ligaments above his ankle where the tibia and fibula come together. Instead of inserting screws to repair the torn ligaments, and then having to undergo a second surgery to remove those screws, they now basically use thin fiber to tie the ligaments together around the lower bones above the ankle to facilitate healing. Now called "tightrope" surgery. For a previous example, this is the surgery performed to repair Tua Tagovailoa's high ankle sprain during the 2019 season at Alabama. And for a better explanation of the surgery, here is how surgeon Dr. Norman Waldrop, who was part of the team that performed the procedure on Tagovailoa, explained how this method creates a more stable ankle and allows the ligaments to heal in their natural position. "What we do is we drill a hole from the fibula into the tibia and cast these tightropes through the bone and synch it down and tighten it," he said back then. "What these tightropes do are stabilize the ankle. It holds that little bone in its home. It holds it still and stable enough that the bones don't want to spread apart." Knowing this, Pollard should be ready to go in plenty of time for the start of training camp the last week in July.
· Reconnection: This isn't the first time that Vaughn and Cowboys undrafted rookie free agent cornerback Myles Brooks of Louisiana Tech have played on the same football team. Cowboys assistant director of college scouting Chris Vaughn, now the more famous dad of Deuce, points out when the two guys from the Austin area were about to enter high school, Deuce at Round Rock Cedar Ridge and Brooks at Pflugerville Hendrickson, he put together a 7-on-7 team that summer in Austin, and the two were teammates. Then, the two went on to play high school ball against each other. Goes to show, you never know.
· Promise Kept: Former Cowboys secondary coach Todd Bowles (2005-07) and now head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 37 years later fulfilled a promise to his mother that when leaving college in 1986 to enter the NFL, he would one day go back to get his college degree. Well, this May, nearly four decades later, Bowles not only walked with cap and gown, graduating from Mount St. Mary University with a Bachelor of Science degree in youth and community development, but also addressed the entire class and audience with a speech at 59 years old, saying, "This is an amazing, amazing thing for me to be in a class with you. I'm more nervous now than I ever was speaking in a locker room at halftime." And that's having won three Super Bowls later, Bowles also pointing out, "You're never too old to stop learning."
· Mini Shots: James Washington, the wide receiver whose 2022 season with the Cowboys was limited to just two games after recovering from a fractured fifth metatarsal and released prior to the final regular season game, has been picked up by the New Orleans Saints … Cowboys defensive line coach Aden Durde will be one of 40 NFL assistants attending the Coach Accelerator program next week in Minneapolis, Minn., as part of the NFL owners meetings, aimed at increasing exposure with owners and executives to promote future advancements in the NFL … Former Cowboys quarterback Ben DiNucci (2020 and practice squad in 2021), who spent this past XFL season with the Seattle Sea Dragons and leading them into the playoffs with a 7-3 record while topping the XFL in passing and passing touchdowns, has been picked up by former Cowboys assistant Sean Payton, now head coach in Denver … Also, former Cowboys defensive lineman Austin Faoliu (one game in 2021), who played for Seattle in the XFL in 2022, has been signed by the Seahawks … Good to see former special teams ace Darian Thompson (2018-21) back with the Cowboys as an assistant linebackers/quality control coach, and was seen on Saturday working with third-round draft choice linebacker DeMarvion Overshown on his drops into coverage.
And after being mostly invisible during the 2022 season with the Cowboys as a consultant, Brian Shottenheimer conducted an interview on Saturday for the first time after having been promoted to offensive coordinator for this season, yet knowing head coach Mike McCarthy will be calling plays on game days. So only fittingly for Schottenheimer's first words to become this week's final words.
Of course, Schottenheimer, who has spent 16 years in the NFL as an offensive coordinator with the Jets, Rams, Colts and Jaguars, was asked if he's ever been in a position likes this, an offensive coordinator not calling plays.
"No, I have not," he began. "You know, I'm excited about it, I really am. There is no ego on my part. I just want to win. I want to help this team win, really for the players first and foremost, for the organization, for the Jones family. Certainly, all the respect in the world for Mike, and that's my job. My job is to help prepare our guys, prepare the staff to be in a position we feel we can go out there every week and compete, and stack a lot of wins together.
"So I'm excited about the process, but it will definitely be a little bit different just because I've never done it."
Learned that too, in the, uh, mini-est, if you will, of minicamps.