OXNARD, Calif. – The reason the Cowboys are heading to Cleveland on Wednesday to play in the Pro Football Hall of Fame preseason game on Thursday in Canton, Ohio, is this:
Three former members of the Cowboys organization are being inducted into the Hall of Fame, upping the franchise's total over their now 62nd year in the NFL to an even 20.
Cliff Harris (1970-1979).
Drew Pearson (1973-1983).
Jimmy Johnson (1989-1993).
But the game is on Thursday these days. The actual induction ceremonies are taking place on Saturday and Sunday, along with a Cowboys reception on Saturday for all these guys and then their individual parties on those two days, too.
As Drew told me recently, making party plans "is like trying to plan for a wedding."
That's why there are party planners these days.
Unfortunately, the current players won't be there for the inductions and parties. Unlike in 2017, when the Cowboys last played in the game prior to owner Jerry Jones' induction on Saturday and throwing a party to end all parties on Friday night with Justin Timberlake playing like a two-hour concert it seemed. On that occasion, the entire team remained in Cleveland, practicing at a high school field on Friday and attending Jerry's induction ceremony in Canton on Saturday, but as soon as his speech was completed heading to the airport for the flight back to Oxnard.
This time around, the Cowboys will head to Oxnard immediately after the game, likely arriving back in camp at roughly 4:30 in the morning Friday.
Nevertheless, Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy figures the occasion is a good teaching tool for his players, especially some of the young guys. Especially for those rookie free agents, able to point out to them that Harris and Pearson first arrived in training camp with the Cowboys as undrafted rookie free agents. That back when there was a 17-round NFL Draft. In fact, in Harris' case, the guy known as "Captain Crash" didn't even receive a scholarship to tiny Ouachita Baptist in Arkadelphia, Ark., until a friend of his father, who also played at Ouachita Baptist, recommended Cliff to the head coach.
Not only did Harris and Pearson make the Cowboys' final roster as rookies, look where they have ended up now. With their bronze busts this weekend in the Hall of Fame rotunda.
"It's the shrine of pro football, everything around it," McCarthy says of the Hall of Fame. "I think being back in that part of the country, this time of year, the grass smells a little differently there. I just think it's such a cool experience to just go back there. Just an historical weekend, with the three different classes going in. That's something we will definitely recognize with our team and make sure they definitely understand the magnitude of what this is all about."
Also emphasizing to the youngsters that it's time to start taking your own best _shots_ when the lights come on Thursday evening.
- Don't Jump: That is to conclusions after McCarthy pointed out that the Cowboys will continue shutting down Dak Prescott throwing the football even after being held out of the past four and a half practices with a strained shoulder/upper arm muscle. Initially, McCarthy and Dak thought he'd miss a "few" practices and would reassess during Monday's off day. But they wisely came to the conclusion there was no need for Prescott to resume throwing on Tuesday since there was no way he'd play in Thursday's preseason game, and with an off day on Friday, no way he would participate in Saturday's practice against the Rams. And with off days Sunday and Monday of next week, they can then reassess if he's ready to go when practice resumes next Tuesday. That would give Dak 12 full days of rest and rehab. Key thing was emphasizing this is not a "setback" for Dak, McCarthy saying, "We just want to make sure this doesn't turn into something bigger." When asked if he still thinks Dak will play in a preseason game, McCarthy said, "I definitely hope so. … It's not a matter of how much he plays, but who he plays with."
- PUP No Longer: Told you guys. Defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence was moving well and was oh, so close to returning following offseason "cleanup" back surgery. Right on cue, the Cowboys removed Lawrence from the Physically Unable to Perform list, and he should be ready to go once the team resumes practicing following Saturday's workout with the Rams. When asked what he expects of this retooled defense, "D-Law" said, "You can expect more speed and more turnovers." The speed we can see, especially with the addition of rookie linebacker Micah Parsons and defensive end Randy Gregory expected to play more than the 25 percent of the snaps he did last year. More turnovers would be a welcomed sight since the Cowboys had only 23 last year, and but 10 of those interceptions.
- Oh, Amari: Sure seemed the Cowboys veteran receiver, still on the PUP list, was in good spirits and running hard during his Tuesday on-field rehab session. Amari Cooper pointed out the foot surgery he had early in the offseason was to remove bothersome bone spurs in his right ankle, which also helped alleviate some inflammation developing in his ankle. Said he fully expects to be ready for the Sept. 9 season opener, claiming, "I want this to be the best season I've had." That there is saying something since last year Cooper had a career-high 92 catches for 1,114 yards, his fourth career 1,000-yard season. "One thousand yards is OK," Cooper said, "but after that is the gravy. I want the gravy." Hey, gravy be good.
- Game Day: Be aware that the first and fourth preseason games for the Cowboys this month, Thursday in Canton and then home on Aug. 29 against Jacksonville, will be manned primarily by the young guys. McCarthy said the majority of his starters will get snaps in the second and third preseason games,
Aug. 13 at Arizona and then home on Aug. 21 against Houston, the so-called dress rehearsal. But there very well could be some starters playing in Thursday's Hall of Fame Game, including a few offensive linemen not named Tyron Smith or Zack Martin. Hard to evaluate these quarterbacks for the presumed backup spot without quality line protection.
- DiNucci Time: The Cowboys should have a good idea of just what Garrett Gilbert is. Same with Cooper Rush. What they must determine is exactly what Ben DiNucci is and if last season's seventh-round draft choice is worth keeping at the very least as a developmental third quarterback. DiNucci just didn't have a fair chance a year ago in his lone start against Philadelphia in the 23-9 loss on Nov. 1. No offseason for NFL-mandated COVID reasons. A cancelled preseason. Few snaps behind Prescott and Andy Dalton once the season began. Same once Dak went down and Dalton getting the far majority of practice snaps. That is, until Dalton, too, went down, thrusting the raw rookie into a starting role against the Eagles, giving him all of three full practices with the first team.
- Camping Out: Two of the free-agent quarterbacks the Cowboys brought in for workouts during the offseason, Brett Hundley and Case Cookus, are no longer on the market, Hundley signing with the Colts and Cookus just picked up by the Vikings because of a COVID-depleted QB room … Oh, and Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer, the former Cowboys defensive coordinator, is none too happy with his unvaccinated players … For a minute there, thought the Cowboys had named one of the training camp practice fields out here after former Cowboys Pro Bowl cornerback and current Mick Shots podcast teammate Everson Walls when hearing over the speakers that the next practice period on Tuesday was going to be "on the Walls Field." As it turns out, the one practice field closest to the River Ridge Golf course is naturally called the "Golf Field" and the one along the huge stone wall bordering the condominium complex is the "Wall's Field." But hey, Walls still holds the Cowboys single-season interception record with 11 his rookie year, and is second all-time with 44 career picks, just a couple of reasons why it's a shame the 2018 Hall of Fame finalist didn't make the cut … Dak might not be throwing, but he sure is getting in his running, staying after practice Sunday and running like 50-yard sprints on his own, proudly saying after one coming right at me, "I think I'm faster now than I've been." That's a good thing when someone is chasing him next time.
Here is a good indication of how far Gregory has come, a second-round pick in 2015, but entering just his fourth campaign after a series of missteps cost him three seasons and the first six games of last year, thanks to suspensions for violating the NFL substance abuse policy.
Gregory, working with the first-team defense at right defensive end, is having a great camp, this being his first full offseason/training camp since his rookie year. Yet, he knows nothing matters until he produces on the field.
"I still have a lot to prove," said Gregory, now 28 and having been placed on the team's 14-member leadership council. "There is a lot of talk going around right now, and I really believe I'm having a good offseason, but there is still a lot to prove on the field. So I don't want to sit here and say, 'Oh, did you ever doubt that you'd get here?' I still feel like I haven't truly arrived, so there is a lot for me to do.
"With that said, I still want to give myself a pat on the back. I really feel that I deserve it. I've worked hard to get to this point, and from this point on, like I said, I just have to put some good play on the field and stay out of trouble, which I'm trying to do, and be the guy that everyone expects me to be and I expect myself to be."