Training camp postcard: Cowboys
SI.com has dispatched 10 writers to report on the 32 NFL training camps across the country. For the complete schedule of postcards, click here.
Setting the Scene
Camp headquarters is at the Marriott Residence Inn in Oxnard, Calif., which is a siren song of a place to work. In the mornings, there's a marine cloudiness to the practice fields behind the hotel, located about three miles from the Pacific Ocean, and the players love practicing with temperatures in the high 60s. In the afternoon, the clouds burn off and the men can get a good sweat going, and the 3,000 or so fans who flood the place can get a good tan. I told owner Jerry Jones Friday that it'd be a shame if the team goes to San Antonio next year, which it is contractually obligated to do, and just forgets working here. The quality of work that gets done here is so good, in part because the players don't have to spend half their time complaining about the heat and humidity. Half the time, there is neither.
1. It's amazing how many big names and big stories there are here. Look, over there -- Dave Campo, back coaching the secondary ... and he's working with Adam (nee Pacman) Jones. With the linebackers, there's a new number 55 -- Zach Thomas, the seven-time Pro Bowl defender coming home to redeem himself. That strong-looking whippet in the backfield? Felix Jones. And the guest coaches: Erik Williams, old Big E, is here on a minority coaching fellowship, working with the line. Michael Irvin had been working with the receivers before leaving the other day for the Hall of Fame ceremonies. Dat Nguyen is working with the linebackers. And Nate Newton is hanging around, doing some media and promotional stuff.
2. The Cowboys have upgraded themselves at corner -- maybe in a big way. Even with Terence Newman out -- he'll miss much of camp with a groin pull -- the Dallas secondary is having a good camp. This morning, Anthony Henry (no, he has not been moved to safety yet, and may not be because of how often Dallas will use a third corner on defense) and rookie first-rounder Mike Jenkins took snaps with the first unit, with Jones and feisty fifth-rounder Orlando Scandrick backing them up. All four of those guys will make the team, with Newman likely to be back by early September. That's a quality group of five NFL corners.
3. Confidence oozes here. The players and coaches don't have to say anything. You can just feel it. They don't make excuses about their horrendous loss to the Giants in the NFC semis. They praise the Giants, in fact. "I've got tremendous respect for what the Giants did,'' Wade Phillips told me this morning before practice. "Think about it: They lose to us twice in the regular season, they lose to Green Bay, and they lose to New England -- and then they beat us all in the playoffs. What are the odds of that? That's got to be unheard of in NFL history.'' But Dallas doesn't think Eli Manning will be able to shred them the way he did at times in that playoff game, and they're sure they'll protect Tony Romo better when the time comes. We'll see.
New Face, New Place
Middle linebacker Zach Thomas. We'd all given up on Thomas, who turns 35 on Labor Day. But the Cowboys haven't. He's embedded on first and second downs in the middle of the defense, and he should play enough to be in the top three on the Cowboys in tackles. Wade Phillips plans to play the rangy 242-pound Kevin Burnett in pass coverage and in two-minute and no-huddle situations. "I want to keep Zach fresh,'' he said.
Thomas is revved up to prove he doesn't have a concussion problem. Even Cowboys you talk to with the notebook put away think Thomas will be a 16-game player, even though the odds are against it in the vortex of a physical defense in a physical division. "There's no question in my mind,'' Thomas said about playing a full season. We'll see.