IRVING, Texas – Normally first-round picks draw most, if not all the attention during rookie minicamp week. Byron Jones has had to share the spotlight with two other first-round talents: second-round pass rusher Randy Gregory and offensive lineman La'el Collins, arguably the most high-profile undrafted free agent in NFL history.
The 27th overall pick seems just fine with that.
After last weekend's whirlwind trip to Valley Ranch in which he met the media and received his No. 31 Cowboys jersey, Jones entered Friday ready to work.
"You're no longer on scholarship," he said, "so you've got to prove it every day."
Between Jones, Gregory and Collins – who can't participate this weekend due to a league rule regarding mid-week rookie free agent visits prior to the rookie minicamp – the Cowboys have never had a trio of rookies rated this highly on their draft board.
Jones was excited to hear Collins signed with the Cowboys on Thursday after falling completely out of the draft for an unprecedented reason: meeting with Baton Rouge (La.) police regarding its investigation into the shooting death of a pregnant woman – an investigation in which he has never been considered a suspect.
"When you go into a week when you expect it to be the best week of your life and it ends up being the worst week of your life, it must've been tough for him," Jones said. "But I'm happy he's on our team because he's a good asset."
Jones is working at cornerback, where he played his last two years at Connecticut, and has the versatility to eventually switch to safety. This week he's focusing on improving his conditioning and technique, and he's looking forward to working with veteran cornerback Brandon Carr in particular.
"We have the same body type, very similar: 6-0 to 6-1, about 200 pounds, and he's a hell of a corner," Jones said. "I've watched a lot of his film and his press man coverage is pretty damn good. That's something I can learn from him."
Jones' frame attracted the Cowboys' attention with opponents deploying bigger and bigger receivers. Defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli is also impressed with Jones' speed and ball skills.
"You can't make a 5-9 guy 6-3, and (with) the combination of (Jones') speed," Marinelli said. Now he's just got to work on bending and all the details that come with that position."
Gasping For Air
The first day of minicamp practice, conducted with helmets only, is more about conditioning. And that was the biggest issue some of the rookies faced on Friday, which gave all of the players a small indication of what the Texas heat will be like this summer.
It won't an extremely hot day, but the humidity got the best of a few players, who left the field due to dehydration. Second-round pick Randy Gregory and third-rounder Chaz Green were two of the players who left the field midway through the afternoon practice. Free agent receivers Lucky Whitehead and Deontay Greenberry both left the field as well.
Head coach Jason Garett will likely address all injury issues on Saturday, as the Cowboys return for the second day of the three-day camp.
*- Nick Eatman *
Two Draft Picks Sign
The Cowboys got an early jump on signing the draft picks, inking deals with fifth-round defensive end Ryan Russell and linebacker Mark Nzeocha, the first of three seventh-round picks.
Don't be surprised if the Cowboys try to get most, if not all, of the eight draft picks signed or at least agreed to terms while they are here this weekend for the rookie minicamp.
Russell, the 163rd overall pick, signed a four-year deal. Last year, Kansas City drafted quarterback Aaron Murray with the 163rd spot, giving him a four-year, $2.40 million deal.
Nzeocha's contract will be similar to the 236th pick of 2014. Last year, Green Bay receiver Jeff Janis got a four-year, $2.27 million deal.
- Nick Eatman