OXNARD, Calif. – It's about time.
It feels like it's taken a year, but the intensity will finally ramp up on Wednesday, as the Cowboys undergo their first padded practice on their eighth day of training camp.
"I'm anticipating seeing really good energy today because the pads are coming," said Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy.
The wait hasn't been for nothing. Under the guidelines of the new CBA, and in the best interest of player health, the past week has been a deliberate ramp up to allow everyone to acclimate. But these four unpadded practices, combined with the repetitive grind of training camp, have made the wait feel like a long one.
"It's going to be good," said Zack Martin. "Coach has done a nice job getting our legs underneath us with these four days. We are moving pretty good out there. It will be more physical tomorrow. But practice is practice."
The result should be a completely different dynamic than what's been shown to this point. These first four practices have looked a lot like a typical OTA, with a focus on installing and situational football, with an obvious lack of physicality.
"Yeah, they like to joke around and say the 'Underwear Olympics,' said Donovan Wilson. "But tomorrow we put the pads on and get to fly around and get to make some contact out there."
There will be contact, but teams aren't going to get overly physical or tackle each other to the ground in a training camp setting. But McCarthy did make the obvious point that putting on pads will allow the more physical aspects of the game, such as offensive and defensive line play, to shine.
"We're really starting to get into more football situations," he said. "I think, especially with the pads coming on tomorrow, I think the hype and importance of the O-Line and D-Line play definitely shows up when you do put those pads on."
That could come with a learning curve. The Cowboys have a big rookie class, not to mention plenty of young players who have limited training camp experience – especially after last year's bizarre edition of camp. McCarthy said Tuesday he plans to make it clear what's expected to make it through a productive practice.
"I think it's important to go through what I call practice etiquette and the ethics of what go on in a padded practice," he said. "Because at the end of the day the extracurricular activity was kind of cool in the 90s but not cool anymore. It's just a waste of time."
It's on the Cowboys to use their time productively. Either way, it's a meaningful step forward on this path through the preseason.