OXNARD, Calif. – For the first time in two years, the Cowboys conducted a practice in Oxnard, as the start to the 2021 training camp got underway.
The fans were in attendance, the media was back, albeit spread out all over the fields, and most importantly, the players were mixing it up on the field.
Now, without pads, it wasn't exactly the most physical practice but the energy seemed high and the players were flying around the ball, exemplifying the excitement of being back in action once again.
Here are some highlights to Thursday's practice:
- The offensive tackle spots will be widely-discussed throughout camp and the regular season. On the first day, it was a good sight to see left tackle Tyron Smith taking most of the reps. He returned from neck surgery that sidelined him for most of camp. But on the right side, La'el Collins split reps with Terence Steele and Ty Nsekhe as the Cowboys plan on easing him back to action. Collins had hip surgery that kept him out all of the season.
- Micah Parsons is picking up right where he left off during the offseason program, as Dan Quinn continues to use him in a variety of ways, including both Mike linebacker and as a standup pass rusher. The rookie linebacker had a fun sequence of reps against Ezekiel Elliott, as he continually found himself in open space against the star running back. Obviously, tackling isn't going to happen in an unpadded training camp practice. But seeing Parsons and Elliott square off against each other was a fun teaser of what's to come next week.
- Play of the day: Prescott showed good touch on two completions to wide receiver Malik Turner, including an over-the-shoulder throw against cornerback Jourdan Lewis for about 40 yards down the left sideline. Backup quarterback Garrett Gilbert also had a nice deep throw to Noah Brown over defensive backs Deante Burton and Damontae Kazee.
- First takeaway of camp goes to linebacker/safety Keanu Neal, who punched the ball out following a completion to wide receiver Michael Gallup.
- Second-year linebacker Francis Bernard suffered a lower-leg injury early into the first practice. He stayed off to the side for a few reps before going into the medical tent, before then gingerly walking off the field. The Cowboys did not have an official injury to report on Bernard.
- The 7-on-7 drills were dominated by the defense. A combination of the quarterbacks and receivers being out of sync, and the aggressive defensive backs and safeties led to a good drill for the defense.
- Particularly in the defense, the cornerbacks made several plays on the ball. During a 10-play stretch, Trevon Diggs, Deante Burton, Nahshon Wright and Jourdan Lewis all made active plays to either break up a pass or strip the ball out of the hands of the receiver.
- Running back Ezekiel Elliott celebrated his 26th birthday on the football field for the first practice of the camp. But it didn't go unnoticed as the fans sang him "Happy Birthday" on at least two occasions, prompting a smile and a quick wave to the crowd from Zeke.
- Every pass caught from tight end Blake Jarwin seemed to create a louder-than-usual cheer from the crowd. Jarwin, of course, missed most of 2020 with a torn ACL. But the fact he was not on PUP to start camp and able to practice, is a great sign for his recovery. The fans seemed to agree with their support on every play he made.
- Tarel Basham, a newly-signed free agent from the Jets, took first-team reps at right end in place of DeMarcus Lawrence, who began camp on PUP with a back injury.