IRVING, Texas – If it hadn't feel real before, it must have started sinking in Monday.
The hallways of Valley Ranch have been quiet for much of the past five months, but they sprang to life with players – many of whom had roughly 36 hours to process the realization of a lifelong dream.
In all, the Cowboys brought in 31 players on Monday – six of their nine draft picks and 25 undrafted free agents. Three of the six draftees, second-rounder Demarcus Lawrence, fourth-rounder Anthony Hitchens and seventh-rounder Terrance Mitchell, have obligations keeping them from joining the roster until Thursday. Despite that, the Cowboys had enough new players on hand to field a full team.
"It feels good to meet some of the guys and kind of start to get acclimated a little bit," Martin said.
Martin has at least had a few days to acclimate, as he was drafted Thursday night and arrived in Dallas on Saturday afternoon. The No. 16 overall pick said it was nice to get the rest of the rookies into town and start working.
"It feels good to be back in football – get in the meeting room and start talking football," Martin said.
Some of those might know each other better than others, in fact. The Cowboys added 33 total rookies from 28 different schools, though not all of them are total strangers. Martin lined up opposite Stanford defensive end Ben Gardner for three years during the annual rivalry between the Fighting Irish and Cardinal.
"It was always me and him lining up against each other – we had a good little rivalry," Gardner said. "He's a great player and I'm glad we got him. I'm glad to be on his team now, because he's not the most fun guy to face on game day."
Gardner said Saturday he could feel the chip on his shoulder growing with every round he slipped in the draft. That's bound to be a common sentiment around Valley Ranch, as Martin and Demarcus Lawrence are the only rookies on hand taken before the third round.
"I had a lot of mixed emotions, but I said to myself, 'Anybody gives me a shot, I'm going to go in and give it all I got and make everybody regret who passed me up,'" said fullback J.C. Copeland. [embedded_ad]
All of those emotions are bound to make any player's first day in the NFL surreal, but it might pack a little more punch for others. Auburn safety Ryan Smith, one of the many undrafted free agents signed after the draft, happened to enter the league on his birthday.
"This is probably the best birthday I ever had, even though I'm kind of at work right now," Smith said.
"It's just a working process, everything's just moving fast. But it'll hit me soon when everything slows down when we get into camp."
That will come sooner rather than later. Training camp is still several months away, but the rookies begin their first mini-camp on Friday – a much quicker turnaround than usual. It's a process that's bound to take some adjusting to, but Smith said it's starting to settle in.
"Seeing the vets come in, seeing Romo come through the locker room, Dez Bryant, guys like that, it's just kind of realistic now," he said.
If it hasn't settled in yet, it's going to quickly. The physicals have been administered and the pictures taken. The pads go on soon enough.
"I'll see when I start hitting somebody," Copeland said.