Spagnola: Just Hurry Up And Get Ready For Season Opener

OXNARD, Calif. – All abroad … and hang on tight.

No, not for the Dallas Cowboys' not-so-express train ride down the Pacific Coast to San Diego today as they pull up training camp stakes here at the River Ridge Complex where they have been embedded for the past three weeks with 51,477 fans their witness.

But for the bullet-train-like ride they are about to embark on once Saturday night's preseason Game 2 is played against the San Diego Chargers at Qualcomm Stadium. This ride is going to be a white-knuckler, and on various levels, mostly thanks to this annual necessary rite of passage – or evil – known as training camp that has left this team battered and bruised.

Yeah, yeah, I know what the complaints and worries have been ever since the Cowboys arrived here on July 28: The third wide receiver, the center position, the safety position, Mike Jenkins, Tyron Smith moving from right tackle to left at the tender age of 21 and the on-gong debate on if Anthony Spencer is worth the $8.8 million franchise tag.

OK, fine, but here, let me give you something to seriously sink your teeth into because, don't look now, but the season opener on Sept. 5 against the New York Giants – Super Bowl champion Giants I might add – is just 19 days away. Makes the hair stand up on the back of your neck, doesn't it?

And here is the scary part: After facing the Chargers Saturday night, the Cowboys, not counting walk-through practices, which are no more than meetings on the field the day before a game, have only seven practices left to prepare for the opener. That's it, seven.

Count with me. They will have their mandatory weekly off day Sunday following the game in San Diego, then practice Monday and Tuesday against the Chargers. Wednesday, after an appearance with the Navy Seals, they fly back to Dallas and then hold the open practice at Cowboys Stadium (4:30 p.m. start). So that's three, since Friday is a walk-through and Saturday they play St. Louis in preseason Game 3 at home.

Sunday is off, and because the NFL chose the Cowboys to open its season in the annual nationally-televised kickoff extravaganza and because the President is giving his Democratic Convention nomination acceptance speech on the normal Thursday game-day, the NFL and network TV, of course, have moved the opener to Wednesday. So that means that final preseason game had to be scheduled for Wednesday, Aug. 29, against Miami. That also means the Cowboys will practice on Monday, have a walk-through on Tuesday and play on Wednesday.

So that's four practices.

And with the opener against the Giants but a week away from that final preseason game, the Cowboys now will go into their game-week schedule. Thursday becomes a normal Monday, meaning showing up at The Ranch for a lift and run, then film work. Friday, normally Tuesday, will be the off-day and when the roster must be trimmed to 53. Then Saturday, Sunday and Monday become the usual practice, practice, practice routine of Wednesday through Friday, meaning the final walk-through and flight to New Jersey takes place on Tuesday.

Still with me? That's three more practices, bringing our grand total from this day forward (Aug. 17) to a mere seven. Seven?

Whooo-boy, we learned a while back *Eight Is Enough. *But seven? When it comes to football? And playing the Giants? And now with tight end Jason Witten, the salt – and maybe vinegar – of this team likely out three-to-four weeks with a slightly lacerated spleen?

When I brought up that seemingly miniscule number to the head coach for clarification, wondering if he had figured out how to squeeze in an extra practice or two before the opener, Jason Garrett arched his eyebrow and with some trepidation and confirmed that's it, it's seven.

Now look, everyone out there has injuries. I see where Detroit running back Jahvid Best likely will start the season on PUP. The Steelers James Harrison just had his knee scoped. The Eagles starting left tackle Jason Peters ruptured his Achilles back in March, already toast. The Giants' Chris Canty has missed all of training camp following major offseason knee surgery, and fellow defensive tackle Shaun Rogers is likely to be waived/injured soon, not to mention corner Terrell Thomas trying to rehab from another knee injury.

Look, everyone's got their problems, not just the Cowboys. We are just keenly aware of theirs. But they will start getting some of the walking wounded back into practice as early as next week when they work against the Chargers, guys like guard Nate Livings, maybe outside linebacker Anthony Spencer, receiver Danny Coale, running back Lance Dunbar and soon center Phil Costa.

But here is what is most troubling to me with but seven practices remaining, and likely putting a higher importance on the final three preseason games, unlike most years when they are treated as mere nuisances:

The projected starting offensive line, or even more concerning, the potential starting offensive line, has yet to practice together, meaning all five guys in pads at the same time.

First it was Mackenzy Bernadeau missing from right guard. OK, he's back, but just back and it didn't take long here in camp for left guard Nate Livings to become an MIA. He is expected to put the pads on in those practices against the Chargers. Great, but then last week Costa (back spasms) heads to the tub.

The only training camp constants – and I'm guessing Cowboys trainers Jim Maurer and Britt Brown would like some knocking on wood at this point – have been the tackles, Smith left and Doug Free right. The interior? Well that's been an exercise in musical chairs, requiring more repairs than your favorite handyman could handle.

See, if there is one position in need of continuity and cohesiveness, it's those five guys up front. Nothing new, always has been, always will be. Absolutely nothing gets done on offense without them, and as we saw Monday night, if the line isn't opening running lanes and is missing blocks, then chances are you are fortunate to score even those three points the Cowboys did against the Raiders.

Now while that defense is improved, not sure we can expect shutouts every time out.

So while the Cowboys are changing venues on Friday, training camp is by no means over, even if Garrett ended practice an hour prematurely on Thursday after telling his guys a trip to the beach was theirs if Dan Bailey could nail the impromptu short field goal he did with the whole team breathing down his neck and then running off the field cheering as if a bunch of school kids let out before the bell.

"We got a lot of work to do before we go home," Garrett said. "We need to make those (San Diego) practice days worthwhile for us. Those are really important days for us, a really important week for us.

"And then we got to keep going, and carry that back to Dallas."

Those San Diego days become vital with Livings getting back into practice next week, along with maybe Costa, meaning the only unanswered question on the line would be if Bernadeau can show enough in a short period of time to hold off the challenges of David Arkin and Ronald Leary for the starting right guard spot.

If somehow they all can return, then the offensive line would have seven days and two preseason games to create some continuity.

But even at that, is that enough time?

Has to be. This Cowboys offensive line has no other choice. Might want to enroll in the Evelyn Wood offensive line-play equivalent course of speed reading, especially since this team will be playing four games in 19 days.

The season opener essentially is right around the bend. The ride is a short one … and fast.

– All abroad … and hang on tight.

No, not for the Dallas Cowboys' not-so-express train ride down the Pacific Coast to San Diego today as they pull up training camp stakes here at the River Ridge Complex where they have been embedded for the past three weeks with 51,477 fans their witness.

But for the bullet-train-like ride they are about to embark on once Saturday night's preseason Game 2 is played against the San Diego Chargers at Qualcomm Stadium. This ride is going to be a white-knuckler, and on various levels, mostly thanks to this annual necessary rite of passage – or evil – known as training camp that has left this team battered and bruised.

Yeah, yeah, I know what the complaints and worries have been ever since the Cowboys arrived here on July 28: The third wide receiver, the center position, the safety position, Mike Jenkins, Tyron Smith moving from right tackle to left at the tender age of 21 and the on-gong debate on if Anthony Spencer is worth the $8.8 million franchise tag.

OK, fine, but here, let me give you something to seriously sink your teeth into because, don't look now, but the season opener on Sept. 5 against the New York Giants – Super Bowl champion Giants I might add – is just 19 days away. Makes the hair stand up on the back of your neck, doesn't it?

And here is the scary part: After facing the Chargers Saturday night, the Cowboys, not counting walk-through practices, which are no more than meetings on the field the day before a game, have only seven practices left to prepare for the opener. That's it, seven.

Count with me. They will have their mandatory weekly off day Sunday following the game in San Diego, then practice Monday and Tuesday against the Chargers. Wednesday, after an appearance with the Navy Seals, they fly back to Dallas and then hold the open practice at Cowboys Stadium (4:30 p.m. start). So that's three, since Friday is a walk-through and Saturday they play St. Louis in preseason Game 3 at home.

Sunday is off, and because the NFL chose the Cowboys to open its season in the annual nationally-televised kickoff extravaganza and because the President is giving his Democratic Convention nomination acceptance speech on the normal Thursday game-day, the NFL and network TV, of course, have moved the opener to Wednesday. So that means that final preseason game had to be scheduled for Wednesday, Aug. 29, against Miami. That also means the Cowboys will practice on Monday, have a walk-through on Tuesday and play on Wednesday.

So that's four practices.

And with the opener against the Giants but a week away from that final preseason game, the Cowboys now will go into their game-week schedule. Thursday becomes a normal Monday, meaning showing up at The Ranch for a lift and run, then film work. Friday, normally Tuesday, will be the off-day and when the roster must be trimmed to 53. Then Saturday, Sunday and Monday become the usual practice, practice, practice routine of Wednesday through Friday, meaning the final walk-through and flight to New Jersey takes place on Tuesday.

Still with me? That's three more practices, bringing our grand total from this day forward (Aug. 17) to a mere seven. Seven?

Whooo-boy, we learned a while back *Eight Is Enough. *But seven? When it comes to football? And playing the Giants? And now with tight end Jason Witten, the salt – and maybe vinegar – of this team likely out three-to-four weeks with a slightly lacerated spleen?

When I brought up that seemingly miniscule number to the head coach for clarification, wondering if he had figured out how to squeeze in an extra practice or two before the opener, Jason Garrett arched his eyebrow and with some trepidation and confirmed that's it, it's seven.

Now look, everyone out there has injuries. I see where Detroit running back Jahvid Best likely will start the season on PUP. The Steelers James Harrison just had his knee scoped. The Eagles starting left tackle Jason Peters ruptured his Achilles back in March, already toast. The Giants' Chris Canty has missed all of training camp following major offseason knee surgery, and fellow defensive tackle Shaun Rogers is likely to be waived/injured soon, not to mention corner Terrell Thomas trying to rehab from another knee injury.

Look, everyone's got their problems, not just the Cowboys. We are just keenly aware of theirs. But they will start getting some of the walking wounded back into practice as early as next week when they work against the Chargers, guys like guard Nate Livings, maybe outside linebacker Anthony Spencer, receiver Danny Coale, running back Lance Dunbar and soon center Phil Costa.

But here is what is most troubling to me with but seven practices remaining, and likely putting a higher importance on the final three preseason games, unlike most years when they are treated as mere nuisances:

The projected starting offensive line, or even more concerning, the potential starting offensive line, has yet to practice together, meaning all five guys in pads at the same time.

First it was Mackenzy Bernadeau missing from right guard. OK, he's back, but just back and it didn't take long here in camp for left guard Nate Livings to become an MIA. He is expected to put the pads on in those practices against the Chargers. Great, but then last week Costa (back spasms) heads to the tub.

The only training camp constants – and I'm guessing Cowboys trainers Jim Maurer and Britt Brown would like some knocking on wood at this point – have been the tackles, Smith left and Doug Free right. The interior? Well that's been an exercise in musical chairs, requiring more repairs than your favorite handyman could handle.

See, if there is one position in need of continuity and cohesiveness, it's those five guys up front. Nothing new, always has been, always will be. Absolutely nothing gets done on offense without them, and as we saw Monday night, if the line isn't opening running lanes and is missing blocks, then chances are you are fortunate to score even those three points the Cowboys did against the Raiders.

Now while that defense is improved, not sure we can expect shutouts every time out.

So while the Cowboys are changing venues on Friday, training camp is by no means over, even if Garrett ended practice an hour prematurely on Thursday after telling his guys a trip to the beach was theirs if Dan Bailey could nail the impromptu short field goal he did with the whole team breathing down his neck and then running off the field cheering as if a bunch of school kids let out before the bell.

"We got a lot of work to do before we go home," Garrett said. "We need to make those (San Diego) practice days worthwhile for us. Those are really important days for us, a really important week for us.

"And then we got to keep going, and carry that back to Dallas."

Those San Diego days become vital with Livings getting back into practice next week, along with maybe Costa, meaning the only unanswered question on the line would be if Bernadeau can show enough in a short period of time to hold off the challenges of David Arkin and Ronald Leary for the starting right guard spot.

If somehow they all can return, then the offensive line would have seven days and two preseason games to create some continuity.

But even at that, is that enough time?

Has to be. This Cowboys offensive line has no other choice. Might want to enroll in the Evelyn Wood offensive line-play equivalent course of speed reading, especially since this team will be playing four games in 19 days.

The season opener essentially is right around the bend. The ride is a short one … and fast.

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