OXNARD, Calif. – On the 15th day of a long training camp, the Cowboys scaled things back a bit.
What was originally scheduled as a padded practice was dialed down on Tuesday morning, as the team went through what was essentially a walkthrough in preparation for Thursday's preseason game against San Francisco.
"Typically when you get to this part of training camp, you have some discussions about which way you want to go based on the work we have," said Cowboys coach Jason Garrett. "We wanted to make it a lighter practice. We just decided to go ahead and do it without our helmets and just jerseys."
To put it bluntly, Monday night's practice looked like that of a team in need of a break. The Cowboys grinded through three straight days of work over the weekend, and they have only had two days off since they started practicing back on July 26.
Combine that with the short turnaround between a Monday night and a Tuesday morning, and it makes plenty of sense to dial things down heading into the preseason opener.
"A little bit of an up-tempo, team on the grass where we worked a lot of different situations and then did the introduction to San Francisco," Garrett said.Garrett has never been interested in disclosing playing time assignments for preseason games, but it's a safe bet the majority of the Cowboys' veterans won't spend much time on the field on Thursday night. Factor that in with travel days on Wednesday and Friday, and this should be a nice, four-day rest for a lot of the Cowboys' most important players.
Not bad after a two-week grind to open camp.
Rico Gathers doesn't even watch basketball anymore. The former Baylor power forward is focused solely on making the Cowboys' 53-man roster in his third training camp.
A year ago, Gathers might have been on his way after scoring a touchdown in each of the first two preseason games. Then he suffered a concussion in practice here in Oxnard and landed on injured reserve for the entire season.
The first-year tight end has another chance this year when preseason gets underway Thursday night at San Francisco.
"Real anxious," Gathers said. "It's been a while. I missed a whole lot of practice last year being on IR the whole year. Just been getting these reps in practice this year in training camp, just getting back into that groove. Just can't wait to get back out there on Thursday and get back to where I left off."
Gathers has made plays in practice while working mostly with the reserves, but in Sunday's Blue & White Scrimmage he caught a red-zone touchdown from starting quarterback Dak Prescott.
Head coach Jason Garrett says those jump-ball type situations come naturally to the 6-6, 282-pound Gathers. He's been working to round out his game, particularly as a blocker.
"He embraces it, he wants all the work he can get, and I do think he's getting better, really each and every day," Garrett said. "But there's a lot of things for him to learn. He plays a challenging position. When you're a tight end, you're an integral part of the passing game, you're an integral part of the running game, you've got to know protections, you've got to know run blocking — all that. He's certainly a work in progress, but we all are. He's embracing his opportunities."
Much has been made of Dak Prescott's performance to this point in training camp. The third-year quarterback has had a largely successful camp so far, completing a high percentage passes across team drills – albeit with a few bad decisions along the way.
One place where Prescott's game has lagged is the deep pass. Regardless of which receiver he's working with, Prescott hasn't been able to consistently on balls down the field. When he has connected, it's typically been on roll outs and scrambles, rather than from the pocket. On Monday, he missed several opportunities to connect on "nine" routes during one-on-one reps between the receivers and defensive backs.
Asked about it Tuesday, Garrett said deep ball throwing is more about decision-making rather than arm strength – and a lot of repetition. He also added that, while Prescott has work to do, he has demonstrated an ability to hit deep passes.
"Like with everything, he's a work in progress in all aspects of his game. But he's completed some deep balls throughout his career up this point," Garrett said. "He certainly has the physical capabilities to doing it. But that's one of the things you have to constantly work on. The best deep ball throwers I've been around, you spend time on it."