Spagnola: Nothing Comes Easy During Camp

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OXNARD, Calif. – Gosh, this don't come easy; you know it don't come easy.

And this has nothing to do with Ringo Starr's opinion of having to "pay your dues if you wanna sing the blues."

This has to do with getting an NFL team ready for the regular season. Oh, the hardships of training camp. Why, with the Cowboys heading to San Jose, Calif., on Friday in preparation for Saturday's preseason opener against the San Francisco 49ers at Levi's Stadium, they will do so likely without these starters, either nursing injuries or still rehabbing from offseason procedures or irate over the condition of a contract: Pro Bowl defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence, Pro Bowl cornerback Byron Jones, Pro Bowl wide receiver Amari Cooper, Pro Bowl running back Ezekiel Elliott, Pro Bowl guard Zack Martin, 2016 Pro Bowl linebacker Sean Lee, starting defensive lineman Tyron Crawford, third-round draft choice Connor McGovern and now projected starting defensive end Robert Quinn.

Enough to make a coach pull his hair out, at least in private.

But Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett soldiers on with his "next man up" mantra, one the Cowboys are seemingly stretching to the unreasonable limits since for whatever reason on Thursday, their final full practice before Saturday's preseason game, they had 14 players not participating and more than likely will not be playing on Saturday with the exception of veteran receiver Randall Cobb, who was given one of those veteran days off.

"It's a great opportunity for some of the young guys to show that they belong," says Garrett, who figures the majority of his active first-teamers will play at least a series, as they did in last year's preseason opener against the Niners.

Fine, but enough is enough. Yet, the Cowboys were thrown for a double loop-de-loop this week, first on Tuesday when Quinn, figuring to be the starter at right defensive end – opposite DeMarcus Lawrence, who is on track to return from his shoulder surgery in time for the Sept. 8 season opener – fractured the third and fourth metacarpal of his left hand and had surgery on Wednesday to repair the breaks.

So by Thursday morning, medical projections had Quinn being recovered enough to play in the Sept.8 season opener against the Giants.

But no, that wasn't enough to compensate for. Oh, no. By the time Thursday's padded practice in the morning was completed, the Cowboys found out Quinn's appeal of a suspension for violating the NFL's policy on performance enhancing drugs was denied, causing him now for sure to miss the first two games of the season.

My gosh, it's always something, isn't it? And these suspensions hitting the Cowboys of late are never cut and dried. They always seem to be veiled in controversy. This one is no different.

Quinn's back story involves having surgery in high school to remove a benign brain tumor. He since has been taking multiple doses of preventive medication to combat seizures, but insisting he has been taking nothing containing the drug probenecid, which he tested positive for at an extremely low level. Probenecid is used to combat gout and previously has been considered a masking agent for steroids back in the 1980s and 1990s.

According to Quinn's agent, Sean Kiernan, in a lengthy statement posted to Twitter, "Due to the unusual nature of his test results, Dr. (John) Lombardo (the NFL's Drug advisor) delayed submission of results to the NFL to allow us to investigate further. During that time, we looked through Rob's medical history to make sure he wasn't given it in a small dose by a doctor since it's very difficult to obtain this drug without a prescription. Rob's legal team was able to obtain records from the pharmacy where Rob gets his seizure medicine filled. The records showed that they filled a prescription for probenecid prior to filling the prescription for Rob. Probenecid is not commonly filled and it was our belief that Rob's pills became contaminated. Clearly many questions existed as to the contamination and we were not able to prove them with certainty at the hearing."

Kiernan's medical expert uses an analogy to describe the low level of probenecid in Quinn's sample this way: "Imagine a bag of rice with thousands of kernels. The level of probenecid in Rob's system was equivalent to 1 kernel of rice in a bag among thousands."

Kiernan went on to say in his Tweet, "I can't think of a situation where I've been personally involved where the league was as tone deaf as it was here."

So that's that.

But now, looking at the Cowboys defensive end landscape, well, darn it, it's Taco Time. That's right, 2017 first-round pick

Taco Charlton, coming off of offseason shoulder surgery, has a grand opportunity staring him right in the face. With no Lawrence or Crawford practicing or playing Saturday night, this guy should line up at right defensive end with the first team, just as he's been ever since Quinn fractured his hand.

And you know what? Taco has begun to take advantage. He had back-to-back impressive practices on Tuesday and Wednesday, winning regularly during the one-on-one pass rush drills and then in team sessions, recording a couple of sacks and penetrating enough to ruin a few run plays behind the line of scrimmage.

The other defensive ends trying to position themselves for a spot on the final 53-man roster are Dorance Armstrong, Kerry Hyder, fifth-round pick Joe Jackson and seventh-round pick Jalen Jelks. Among this group, Charlton has the most experience, having played in 27 games, with seven starts, to Hyder's 24 games and two starts during his NFL career.

"Great opportunity for Taco to play a lot of snaps in this game," Garrett says. "He's done a nice job responding this past week. He's gotten a lot of work with the ones. He's done a nice job, and he'll continue to get those chances.

"We'll see Taco. We'll see a lot of those young defensive linemen. Again, it's a great opportunity for some of those young guys to show that they belong."

That's one of the positives born out of when things just don't come easy during training.

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