FRISCO, Texas – Give Mike McCarthy credit, he was trying to cover as many bases as possible out here on Wednesday.
There was rain pending late morning, and he knew the storm was probably going to hit right before noon. Nevertheless, the head coach had the Cowboys going outdoors for their final full-padded practice of the week at 11:30 a.m., and for good reason.
"That's why we're going to get out here today, and hopefully it's humid as hell to make the transition from California into this weather to get ready for Tampa," McCarthy said beforehand, thinking he might at least get three periods completed in uncomfortable weather.
Well, unfortunately the weather gods didn't cooperate. Not only did the rain slowly begin to fall about the time the Cowboys were finishing out their team stretch, but a crack of thunder and a little lightning struck, and the go-in horn sounded.
Time to head for cover in Ford Center.
McCarthy realizes a team becomes spoiled practicing all those picture-perfect days in the low-70's of Oxnard, Calif., and better get ready for a probable hot and humid Sept. 9 season opener in Tampa, Fla.
So what better way to do so than to practice outdoors here at The Star, where temperatures this time of year should be hovering around 100 degrees. Not this day, much to his chagrin.
"This is an important practice for us, because we do need to transition, because I haven't been through this in a while – I know in those early days in Kansas City, you get back from River Falls (Wis.) back into the heat, it takes a little while, and we open up in Tampa, and we could catch a hot muggy night there," McCarthy said, mentioning his first NFL coaching stop with the Chiefs. "So I want to make sure we get some opportunities, which we will to get out there and practice in this weather."
Stay tuned Mike. Wednesday was not a usual August day in Texas. Summer ain't near over in these parts. You will be able to take some sweltering shots outdoors over the next three weeks.
· Dak Status: While the Cowboys remain confident Dak Prescott will be ready for that Sept. 9 season opener against the Super Bowl champion Buccaneers, judging from what QB1 did and didn't do in practice Wednesday, the last padded one prior to Saturday's preseason Game 3, Dak won't get any preseason game reps before the opener. Prescott continues to throw in drills, and throw well, as he did Wednesday. But he still did not take snaps in any of the team compete sessions, and because of that McCarthy said prior to practice if he didn't then "there is a good chance he probably won't play" Saturday. And McCarthy previously pointed out there was little chance he'd play his starting quarterback in the fourth preseason game, just 11 days before the opener. That means, "You got to point to your practice environment. I trust the practice process," for Dak's regular-season prep McCarthy insists.
· Hooked Up: The Cowboys are in a squeeze evaluating veteran safety Malik Hooker. They are trying to ease him back into padded practices, knowing he hasn't played a snap in a real game since rupturing his Achilles in a game Sept. 20 of last year. Hooker has just recently eased into padded practices this week, but with limited snaps, and the Cowboys do have to make their final 53-man roster decisions in 13 days. "I'd like to see him move forward and get some plays on Saturday," McCarthy says. If practice means anything, the Cowboys top safeties so far heading into the Houston preseason game are Donovan Wilson, Demontae Kazee, Jayron Kearse, Darian Thompson and rookie Israel Mukuamu, along with rookie free agent Tyler Coyle. Can't keep 'em all, and likely the final analysis on Hooker will be dependent more on his health and his history in the league.
· Kick Around: Don't read too much into the Cowboys likely hooking up with free-agent kicker Lirim Hajrullahu, a four-year veteran of the CFL where he kicked the Grey Cup-winning field goal in 2017 for Toronto. This likely has nothing to do with veteran kicker Greg Zuerlein still on PUP or any anxiety caused by no field-goal attempts in team practice or a preseason game so far, rehabbing from his May back surgery. The Cowboys need a kicker for at least Saturday's preseason game against Houston since punter/kicker Hunter Niswander, who has handled punts and place kicks in the first two preseason games, has developed back soreness and won't be available. Niswander's injury settles what little punter competition might have developed, assuring Bryan Anger the job.
· Hard Knocks II: Fist bump the Hard Knocks crew for revealing the story of Azur Kamara, a second-year linebacker who spent the 2020 season on IR with the Cowboys. Kamara's is a perfect story of football perseverance, a kid from the Ivory Coast turned refugee whose family fled to Guinea and made its way to the United States where he played college ball at Kansas. And darn if there wasn't nearly a Hollywood ending to the segment in the Arizona preseason game with the Cowboys leading 16-13 and the Cardinals facing fourth down in the final minutes. Kamara sacked and forced a QB Chris Steveler fumble to seemingly secure the Cowboys victory in the game with his mom and siblings watching at State Farm Stadium. Only problem, a weak false start penalty coming in so late the flag did not stop the play. The Cardinals then converted on the do-over fourth down to drive for the tying field goal and eventually kick a walk-off, game-winning three-pointer.
· Here's Another: Keep an eye on #46, rookie free-agent fullback Nick Ralston from nearby Argyle High School, the only fullback left on the roster after Sewo Olonilua has been placed on IR with a neck injury. Ralston stepped into the fullback role in the game against Arizona, came up with a couple of tough blocks and recorded two special teams tackles. Of Ralston, McCarthy said, "He made a big jump in the second game," and that he will get more opportunities Saturday against Houston. Would be another long shot story.
· Swing Tackle: The Cowboys are taking a hard look at second-year tackle Terence Steele as the possible winner of that battle. Of late, when the second-team tackles are in, they have Steele playing on the considerably more difficult left side and veteran Ty Nsekhe now at right tackle. Thinking is, if you can play left tackle, right tackle shouldn't be that hard or if it is, Zack Martin just moves over a couple of feet and Connor McGovern comes in at guard.
· Parsons File: To say rookie football player Micah Parsons is making an impression on the Cowboys would be an understatement. He's standing out. This from veteran corner Maurice Canady: "I can't say he reminds me of anybody because I never met somebody that's 250, ran a 4.3. Have you? No, I never heard of that." Me neither, or how about this coincidence, that both Canady and Parsons share a May 26 birth date, but five years apart. Then this from this week's starting QB Garrett Gilbert, the Cowboys solid No. 2 guy behind Dak: "He's all over the place." And remember from Episode 1 of Hard Knocks, a mic-ed up Dak during practice saying, "Holy-S he's fast."
· Coming On: This one is rather easy, guys starting to make a huge impression in training camp. Considered No. 3 defensive end Dorance Armstrong is earning game snaps daily with his impressive play. Third-round draft choice Osa Odighizuwa is stepping in with the first team at the 3-tech DT spot in place of the injured Neville Gallimore (neck), and starting to feel more comfortable, thus making more noticeable plays. Keep an eye on No. 81, WR Simi Fehoko, now seemingly with his play making a run at either the No. 5 receiver spot or causing the Cowboys to consider keeping six wide receivers, a lot depending on his special teams play, too. Not that his talent is a surprise, but in his first two padded practices WR Amari Cooper shines brightly, looking fully recovered from his surgery to remove bone spurs from his rankle that's kept him out of camp practices until this week. Appears as if shot out of a canon on routes.
· Frisco Shorties: We've heard of suitcases, right. How about shoe, uh, cases. That's what Hard Knocks caught CeeDee Lamb packing while leaving training camp. A case full of shoes, none appearing to be those worn for practices or in games . . . Heard someone accusing Zeke of playing up to the cameras with all his goofy stuff getting on Hard Knocks, from the baby powder segment to needing a hot dog during practice to just seemingly always bouncing off walls. You kidding me. That's him. Or as former Ohio State teammate Hooker says, "Zeke in college? Man he ain't changed since I first met him in 2014 when I first met him at Ohio State to now, he still acts like the same Zeke. The same Zeke. He probably matured a lot but he was definitely as goofy back then." See there.
Speaking of Zeke, let's let him have the last word today when talking about the Cowboys offense, one much is expected of, but likely will not have all 11 starters taking a snap together until that Sept. 9 season opener against Tampa Bay now that it appears Dak will be put on ice until the start of the season. Same for Zeke. Amari, maybe a few this Saturday. The offensive line starting five? Probably a series or three at most. Tight end Black Jarwin, maybe a few snaps this Saturday. But certainly not even an entire quarter with the band back together, and remember, last year, Dak missed 11 games, La'el Collins 16, Tyron Smith 14, Zack Martin six, Jarwin 15 and Tyler Biadasz four (and only four starts at center).
"I don't know if it's so much a setback," Zeke said of lack of time together in preseason. "I mean, yeah, we haven't had a chance to play all together in a while, but we do have a lot of veteran pieces and a lot of guys who have played a lot of football. It does suck that we're not able to practice all together right now but I think we'll pick up at a good point when he gets back."
Truly testing the old adage, practice makes perfect.