FRISCO, Texas – And now comes time for the Cowboys to hold their breath.
The official offseason comes to a close after Thursday, save what head coach Mike McCarthy is calling a week's worth of "Rookie School," and for those guys still rehabbing from surgery or for those still after a little break conscious of their conditioning before the start of training camp, where he says, "I'm planning for Oxnard."
Still awaiting that official stamp of approval, maybe arriving shortly.
Nevertheless, that's a long time, close to 40 days and 40 nights, of unstructured time for your players to be away, though the Cowboys are allowed to start camp earlier in preparation for the preseason's first game against the Steelers at the Hall of Fame. You just never know what idle time can bring.
Then there is the conditioning worries, too, since there is no more going to camp to get into condition like the old days. Better be ready to go, and especially those borderline players.
"It's really the five-week period for each individual to get themselves ready," McCarthy maintains, eschewing vacation. "The conditioning component to me is always the biggest challenge in training camp, especially because of late because we have different restrictions and it's a bigger time away from your team than years ago.
"I'd say don't totally get away from it."
But for now, we all got two days full of minicamp practices, certainly more than we and McCarthy got last offseason for COVID protocol reasons, all hopefully providing enough shots to hold us over for a few weeks.
- Scramble Plays: McCarthy instituted a drill into practice for a variety of reasons, but not particularly to continue Dak Prescott's rehab from his season-ending surgery. It's called "scramble drill," where a play is called and then after the quarterback drops back, he acts as if he's under pressure and begins to scramble, which causes the receivers to start scrambling around to get open. Great idea since so many called plays in the NFL break down. And, not that it is an intended consequence, this causes Dak to move around with no premeditated steps, closer to what will actually take place in a game and a stretch away from his regular rehab drills.
- Britt The Man: Maybe this is a question that's needed to be asked a long time ago. But Wednesday McCarthy was asked about the job done by Cowboys associate trainer Britt Brown, their director of rehabilitation, the guy who spends hours on end with the guys either rehabbing after surgeries or from injuries. Britt, in his 25th year with the Cowboys, basically has been an added appendage to Dak Prescott this offseason while he has been recovering from his ankle surgery, and spends most days during this offseason also working rehab drills with the likes of La'el Collins, Tyron Smith, Zack Martin, DeMarcus Lawrence, Trysten Hill and others. And when I say working, I mean working. Guys will tell you rehabbing with Britt is harder than being healthy and going through practice. Here is McCarthy's fist bump: "I'll say this about Britt. He is great at what he does. If you watch him every day, he has an old-school discipline to him, but the connection he has with the players in our locker room is unique. We all have great trust in Britt and the whole training staff in the way they get these players what they need . . . I've been very impressed with Britt since I got here, we definitely have our guys working with the right guy."
- No Cap & Gown: There seemed to be this growing perception that since CeeDee Lamb's likely bigger offensive role in his second season, the Cowboys won't either risk or tire him out returning punts. Not so, says McCarthy. First of all, he is too good at what he does. Secondly, "I don't believe in players graduating from special teams." That's good, because CeeDee has an uncanny ability with the ball in his hands and he easily catches these towering punts as if a can or corn off the top grocery store shelf.
- Unintended Consequence II: Another positive. With as many as five or so wide receivers missing practice for injury reasons – Amari Cooper, Cedrick Wilson, Simi Fehoko, T.J. Vasher and Stephen Guidry – free-agent signee Johnnie Dixon has received more reps than he would normally have. And the first-year player who battled through knee surgeries for two seasons after his red-shirt freshman year at Ohio State took advantage, showing up nicely in Tuesday's minicamp practice. This is a guy who can stretch the field, and even though he went undrafted in 2019, he did catch 42 passes for 669 yards and eight touchdowns his final year with the Buckeyes – that's 16-yards a catch. The Cowboys also had him fielding punts during special team drills. As for why he signed the free-agent deal with the Cowboys? "The workout," Dixon said, referring to the day he came here to catch passes from workout QB Brett Hundley and shined. "I was very grateful. Just sitting at home, being on the couch every day is not it. I was ready to get back to football and I'm happy it's here, honestly.
- Special Kicks: While in red-zone sessions and twice coming up short of the end zone, in came starting center Tyler Biadasz to attempt field goals. That's right, the 6-4, 317-pound center. With no kicker on the premises, "They said who can kick field goals, and I said, 'I can do it,'" Biadasz said. So old-school style, Biadasz toed the first one like 35 yards through the uprights. As for the second one, like 47 yards away, he pushed it to the right. Turns out Biadasz handled kickoffs in high school and says he was the backup kicker, too. Hey McCarthy always says he wants his players who can do more than one thing. You never know, right. Remember Jeff Heath.
- Best Sight: Not on Jimmy Johnson's asthma field out at The Ranch, which now is occupied by housing, but this was on the Cowboys other practice field here at the Star: Tyron Smith, La'el Collins and Zack Martin running sprints, and then tethered to these small metal-type sleds, pulling them down the field at top speed. The trio totaling 36 of 48 missed games last season will be ready for the start of training camp. "They are the most important if you ask me," Prescott said of seeing them ready to go once camp begins. "From the time I got drafted until now, this offense was built off of those guys . . . those are walking Pro Bowl guys when they are healthy, you know what I mean. Future Hall of Famers." Good eye there Dak.
- Mini-Shots: Never a practice goes by without CeeDee doing something causing you to go, "geez-us." And so he did again Wednesday, a leaping, body contorting catch. OK, he would have been ruled out of bounds if this were a game, but the only ones who cared about that were the celebrating DBs . . . Dak's accuracy is improving, especially during a red-zone period, where from the 20 he perfectly fitted a pass over Trevon Diggs into the leaping hands of Michael Gallup in the back corner of the end zone . . . Rookie Israel Mukuamu demonstrated the benefits of playing safety at 6-4, leaping high to break up a pass near the line of scrimmage thrown by Cooper Rush . . . During QB Ben DiNucci's first two-minute drill, he missed a wide open Jeremy Springer after smartly moving the team into scoring position, but then came back with a nifty completion to Osinus Mitchell and a TD pass to rookie WR Bandon Smith into the back of the end zone . . . Punter Hunter Niswander, the only player on the 90-man roster missing from minicamp, has an excused absence, remaining home with his wife during her high-risk pregnancy.
Last word goes to 30-year-old Tyron Smith, entering his 11th season and coming off that liberating neck surgery last year that limited him to just two games. Remember, Tyron usually is a man of few words, and most times would rather not do interviews. But for the past couple of days he has really opened up. Jovial to be exact.
And when asked about getting ready to start his 11th season, Smith said, "For me, can't think too much about it, got to think you're still young. If you continue to think that you're' an old guy, you're going to be an old guy. I try to think with a young mentality, that's why I come around laughing and joking around, and I don't want them to be thinking I'm old and almost done or anything."
When a media member pointed out, like come on, you're still just 30, you're not old, Tyron erupted on his video call with a hardy laugh.
No laughing matter for most of us in the room well past 30.