OXNARD, Calif. – The Cowboys arrived in Oxnard back on Tuesday and hit the field Thursday and Friday for a couple of practices as well.
But for most of the players, real football didn't actually begin until Saturday afternoon, when the team conducted its first full-padded practice.
For the big boys up front, that's when things get fun.
"It felt great to come out here and bang a little bit," second-year guard Zack Martin said. "It's really football. Last couple of days were great to come out and get your legs underneath you, but this is where we find out where we're going to be as a football team."
Martin's running mate Travis Frederick, the Cowboys' third-year center, said he didn't need to get in the pads for it to feel like football again.
"For me, training camp is about the hitting, but it's about the team coming together," Frederick said. "So that's when training camp really hit for me. Now, it's about football and hitting and getting the rust off."
For head coach Jason Garrett, days such as Saturday are always a tough balance for coaches, who want the intensity to be high, but controlled to limit injuries.
"Certainly a day like today when you put the pads on it heats up a little bit," Garrett said. "It's real football for the first time we've been here. But again, we're not going to tackle. We want to keep guys off the ground and we're constantly talking to each of our guys about that. That's when injuries occur. It's a big, physical football game, everybody gets that, but there are good ways to practice and not so good ways to practice. We try to make everyone understand what we want."
- As expected, quarterback Tony Romo returned to practice after missing Friday's light session with a stye around his left eye. He targeted receiver Dez Bryant down the sideline several times in drills, including a completion against cornerback Orlando Scandrick in seven-on-seven work.
- No surprise: Bryant's energy was noticeable even when he wasn't taking reps. He vocally supported each of his fellow receivers facing the defensive backs in one-on-one drills and was clear to point out defensive holding to the officials when necessary.
- Linebacker Sean Lee worked on the resistance cords for much of practice as the Cowboys continue to ease him back into action following his return from last year's ACL injury. "We're just smart with the reps, how many reps he's going to take," defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli said. "We've kind of monitored this whole thing out . . . we've got a plan for him."
- Kicker Dan Bailey was perfect on field goals between approximately 35 and 42 yards.
- Lance Dunbar, Lucky Whitehead and Cole Beasley were in the punt return rotation. The Cowboys are looking for a replacement for Dwayne Harris, who signed with the Giants in the offseason.
- Morris Claiborne –The fourth-year corner announced his return to the practice field in a big, big way. It's only been nine months since Claiborne tore his patellar tendon, but after an extensive rehab, he went through all but one session of Saturday's practice – and he impressed. In the seven-on-seven period, he picked off Romo by jumping a post route. Several minutes later, he almost had another when he broke up a deep ball intended for Devin Street. It would have been a big day for a guy who was completely healthy – let alone someone who suffered a major injury less than a year ago.
- The Running Backs –It's hard to judge the running back spot, because the defense isn't allowed to make real tackles during the scrimmage portions of practice. That said, both Joseph Randle and Lance Dunbar looked good in their first looks of live action. Randle looks like an entirely different back once he gets into full pads. Dunbar made several eye-catching cuts that freed him up into the open field against the first-team defense. It has to be difficult for Darren McFadden to watch from the sideline.
- DeMarcus Lawrence –There might not be a more interesting aspect of the first day of pads than on the offensive and defensive lines, where the big guys are finally allowed to make some contact. Tyron Smith did a phenomenal job of neutralizing Greg Hardy and Randy Gregory, but Lawrence made an impact from his new home at left end. In one-on-one pass rush drills, he put a nasty stutter-step on Doug Free and blazed past the veteran tackle for a "sack."
Play of the Day:
On occasion, Garrett will select a few one-on-one matchups and call the team together to watch them. One of these designed pressure situations was Terrance Williams against Scandrick. Williams got a step on Scandrick down the right sideline and dove to deftly catch Romo's ball, much to the delight of the fans lining the fence a few yards away.
Aug. 1 – Signed LB Will Smith.
July 31 – Signed LB Keith Smith.
Returned to Practice:
QB Tony Romo (eye)
OL Ronald Patrick
DE Jeremy Mincey (contract holdout)
RB Darren McFadden (hamstring)
Chaz Green (hip)
Mark Nzeocha (knee)
Rolando McClain (knee)
Sunday, August 2
Noon (PDT) Coach Garrett press conference
3:45 p.m. (PDT) Practice