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Training Camp | 2020

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Spagnola: Abnormally Coming Back To Normal


NO LONGER FROM HOME, Texas – Finally, finally, after 141 days, and those growing longer by the day, believe me, it's FRISCO, Texas.

We're back.

The Cowboys are back, and at it, practicing Friday for the first time this quite hopeful 2020 season for more reasons than one under first-year head coach Mike McCarthy.

Was reminded yesterday how long it's truly been since last sitting at my desk out here at The Star. Had decided since was out this way to do a dry run parking in a new spot, protocol entering and just generally scoping the place out.

Well, first off, no one had messed with the organized clutter on my desk. Still there was the little water left in my water cup from last time here.

But here's what was so sobering:

Looked at my calendar on my cube wall. Was still March. March, I'm telling you. Reminded me the last time I sat there was Wednesday, March 25, the last time before work-from-home was mandated.

Time really has stood still, this becoming a welcome back to not only football, but to life as we once knew it. Er, well, sorta.

Probably why it didn't even bother me to watch this first-ever Cowboys training camp practice at their home facility from my desk, just peering out the window. COVID-19 NFL protocols allow only so many on the field to watch practice, so this was strange in itself. But this too: Never was a Cowboys training camp opening workout so quiet. No noise. Couldn't hear the on-field chatter. We need some piped in sound. Jerry, call the NBA.

Then there were the Cowboys quarterbacks. They had those protective red jerseys on. Meaning, don't touch. Not since the Tom Landry days when the QBs wore those red vests, Everson Walls reminded me of, have the Cowboys quarterbacks been so protected. Hopefully, those red jerseys scare the corona away, too.

Then there were the four cooling tents between the two fields. At team breaks, the players went into their respective tents, the safety measure combating the Texas heat in August. Jovial "Jumbo" Joe Looney says popsicles were provided inside. He likes the blue ones. Beats the two ice cubes we were given during summer camp breaks in high school. Water was for the weak.

The airhorn longtime equipment manager Bucky Buchanan would sound to change periods is now replaced by a scoreboard buzzer, reminding me of those old junior high basketball gyms we played in.

Oh, and nearly an entirely new coaching staff, save Kellen Moore, Doug Nussmeier, Leon Lett and Kyle Valero, although knowing those returning from days gone by, Skip Peete and George Edwards. Them others? They need numbers on their shirts so we know who they are from afar. At least we recognize McCarthy, the first-year Cowboys head coach, ninth in the franchise's 60-year history.

Hey, the offseason helps us out, too.

So many changes, and leave it to Looney to bring perspective to these days, because when asked the difference between now and two years ago when he stepped in for the ailing Travis Frederick to start at center that season, the guy lining up at center with the first-team offensive line had this to sarcastically say, but virtually for sure, during a conference video call:

"What differences are you talking about? Because right now I'm standing in front of a podium and I feel like the president. I'm walking up here, 'Fourscore and seven years ago …'"

Real funny guy, this Joe.

But first-day impressions can be made, even if this was no more than an OTA-like practice – helmets, jerseys, shorts, no contact, no one-on-one drills – even from my semi-private bird's-eye view.

Like No. 58 is Aldon Smith, the defensive end who hasn't played a down of football since 2015. The Cowboys are listing him at 280, closer to defensive tackle size. But he sure didn't look a pound over 260, and those who have watched him over the past several weeks since being reinstated from indefinite NFL suspension were right. He still moves like a defensive end, and probably why he's lining up on the right side with the first-team D-Line.

There was veteran Tyrone Crawford, removed from the physically-unable-to perform list following surgeries to repair both hips. He, too, worked with the first-team defense, but the man for all positions was back inside at defensive tackle, alongside newcomer and slimmed-down Gerald McCoy. The other free-agent DT acquisition, Dontari Poe, is on PUP, though looking good working on the resistance cords with associate trainer Britt Brown.

Maybe it was the mandated distance from practice, but swear Dak Prescott looked leaner – he says same weight, but maybe better proportioned. Same from DeMarcus Lawrence, and you could tell from his face during his virtual interview, listing at 250, down 15 pounds from last year at this time.

CeeDee Lamb? Plays taller than I imagined. Catches everything in sight, even if he only needs to use one hand. And, yes, when the first-team offense lined up, at wide receiver it was Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup and Lamb. Let's go nickel offense.

Connor Williams, despite ACL surgery nearly nine months ago to the day, jumped right in at left guard with the first team, though, as McCarthy said ,would work in slowly, so Connor McGovern got some snaps with the first team there, too. There were first-team snaps for first-year offensive tackle Wyatt Miller, subbing in for starter La'el Collins, doing maintenance on the back issues bothering him at the end of last season that flared up in the offseason.

At cornerback, the competition already has begun. The first three out there were Chidobe Awuzie at left corner, Anthony Brown at right corner and Jordan Lewis in the slot. But rotating in were Daryl Worley left, rookie Trevon Diggs right (in Byron Jones' former No. 31 jersey) and Brown in the slot.

Hey, and I'm told to keep an eye on last season's 6-4 rookie free agent corner Chris Westry, who landed on IR in 2019. Size matters at corner.

Let's see, safety Donovan Wilson, who lined up with the seconds at safety – of course Xavier Woods and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix with the firsts – picked up where he left off last summer, recording an interception. Aldon Smith still has that mammoth reach of what made him a dynamic defensive end in San Francisco, batting down a pass at the line of scrimmage without hardly jumping.

And while Cincinnati was ready to move on from quarterback Andy Dalton, landing in the Cowboys' lap on a one-year deal as Dak's backup, the guy is hugely accurate throwing the ball, big reason why he's in his 10th NFL season.

So we move on to Day 2. Oh wait, that's a day off. League rules somewhat biblically insist on resting every seventh day. So the guys can hang out Saturday in their Omni bubble, a COVID-inspired change.

But none of this, not changes in coaching, changes in camp location, changes in routine and general procedures, have seemed to dampen spirits on the football field. Looked as if a bunch of rambunctious kids ready to break out.

As the wise Lawrence said, "Being able to play football has really helped me realize that life is not always going to be a steady line, and you're going to have some bumps in the road. And it's all about adjusting and making your due count when it's supposed to."

Yep, definitely not a "steady line," and that's for all of us.

So guess it's time to flip my calendar.

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