OXNARD, Calif.** – Mike Pope's got 477 more tricks up his sleeve, apart from throwing ice water on his shirtless tight ends.
The Cowboys' tight ends coach doused his tight ends in freezing water with their shirts off as he had them catch passes in an effort to work on their concentration, and that's just one of hundreds of tricks in his arsenal to help his tight ends channel their focus so they don't get distracted.
All the unique drills are seldom seen elsewhere and seem odd and peculiar – and they are – but they also serve a practical purpose.
"I made a list one time, I had 478," Pope said. "I can't remember all of them, because I'm getting a little bit older, but they're just common sense more than anything else…now the water thing is just a little fun."
The idea behind Pope's drills is that when the ball arrives things tend to happen in games that make players lose their focus or flinch. That's the result as well when ice water hits their skin.
"They temporarily close their eyes," Pope said. "It's an instinct. It's uncontrollable. So hitting them with the ice water, they all flinch. I told them all, I said, 'If I bet you your car, you'd all be walking,' because that ice water hits them and it's such a shock to their body. Any of those things that you can do to try to distract them, anything you can do, is a decent drill."
One of the most entertaining and unusual parts of camp is what happens toward the end of many practices when Pope takes his group to the side.
He's had his tight ends put beekeeper masks over their faces and catch passes. He's had the tight ends lie on their stomachs as footballs are hummed at their faces. He's had his players throw a ball up with one hand, turn around, catch a pass and grab the other football before it hits the ground.
"Everything we do has something to do with that seeing the last part of the flight of the ball so you don't miss the ball," Pope said, "because very often these are third-and-2, third-and-3 plays, plays down in the red zone, plays in the end zone, so these catches are vital. But it's foolish to practice on air because we all know that has nothing to do with the game.
"To be more realistic, you've got to create distractions in order for them to build that in-the-game, heat-of-the-battle technique to move their head and see the ball hit their hands." [embedded_ad]
The ideas come from game-time situations. He sees something happen in a game and wonders how he can practically make a drill out of it. Head coach Jason Garrett remembered a time in the past that a blocker didn't keep his hands up enough, so Pope literally sent him onto the practice field with his hands taped together to stop them from going down.
To add to the intrigue and to keep his tight ends guessing, he never tells them beforehand what kind of drill he's got up his sleeve. Ideally, all the drills will help his tight ends come game-time when they're in traffic or getting knocked around by corners and linebackers down the field.
"There's someone always knocking us around, particularly when you get the credentials that a Jason Witten has," Pope said. "You think they're just going let him run down and catch the ball? I don't think so.
"They'll take that risk of grabbing him, pulling him. Maybe the back judge doesn't see it. You can't just run around complaining all the time. I tell them they can get a cup and get on the corner with a cane if they want to just beg all the time. Don't beg. Beat the coverage, catch the ball, don't be distracted by what happens to you."
The drills seem to be encouraged by the coaching staff. Garrett certainly knew what he was bringing on when the former Giants tight ends coach. So far, Pope hasn't gotten any complaints to his face from the veterans in the group.
"Not yet," Pope said with a smile. "They look at me like I'm Hannibal Lector or something like that. But now, they get the gist of it. I've explained it to them in the meeting that we're going to do something today that's really going to try to distract you, so play through it."