Postcard from camp: Cowboys
The Cowboys may be deepest team in league at skill positions
Dez Bryant has impressed coaches with how quickly he's caught on
Dallas' road schedule is filled with prime playoff contenders
SI.com has dispatched writers to report on the 32 NFL training camps across the country. Here's what Peter King had to say about the Cowboys camp in San Antonio. For an archive of all camp postcards, click here.
I'm in San Antonio, at the first portion of the split training camp of the Cowboys. Dallas, in a bow to their loyal Texas fans, trains inside the Alamodome for two weeks, then splits for the cooler climes of Oxnard, Calif., 75 miles north of downtown Los Angeles and bordering the Pacific Ocean. The cool sea breezes there actually make the dog days of August not so dog-like -- and the trip allows the Cowboys to continue the tradition of training in southern California started by Tex Schramm and Tom Landry. No cool sea breezes here, though. Just the relentless heat of south Texas, and the stifling midsummer humidity ... though the team has it pretty good inside the 'Dome. It's air-conditioned.
I asked Jerry Jones about the split camp idea. Obviously, it makes huge money for him, because they make millions from the good people of San Antonio to bring the team here for two weeks. As for California, Jones said, "It's a generational thing. Because of the franchise's history out there, we have fans who have been watching us out there for years. This gives us the best of both worlds, and it also allows us to get more reps for our players because it's not so hot.''
1. Dallas has to have the best skill-player depth in the NFL. Felix Jones is projected to start in the backfield, with Marion Barber and Tashard Choice in reserve, and no team has a better 1-2-3 punch there. Miles Austin, Roy Williams, Dez Bryant and Patrick Crayton are a good to very good receiver group. And no one's better overall at tight end, with Jason Witten starting and Martellus Bennett (underachieving so far) behind him. And don't forget the unknown John Phillips, who's having a great camp so far (watch your back, Martellus). Phillips made a spectacular one-handed catch at practice Tuesday afternoon and is a blocking monster. Jones, by the way, missed practice today with a sore knee, but it's not considered serious.
2. I've been coming to Dallas training camps for a long time. And I haven't seen or felt the kind of confidence I felt here over the last day and a half since the Cowboys were a Super Bowl team in the mid-90s. Spent some time with Tony Romo this afternoon before practice and he exuded that confidence as much as Jerry Jones traditionally does. "The kind of depth we have here is the kind of depth that any quarterback would be thrilled with," Romo said. "You talk about the running backs and the tight ends? I see six wide receivers here that I have tremendous confidence in and I think all of them can be the type of guys you win with. I'm just like everybody else here, really excited."
Last point about Romo: He lost about seven pounds, which isn't that big of a deal, but it looks like he's moving around better and more freely than he did a year ago. Of course, it's easy to be moving around without much effort on the fifth day of camp. Lets see how mobile he looks in the fifth week of the season.
3. Brandon Williams, the fourth-round pick in 2009 from Texas Tech, has impressed as a sideline-to-sideline run 'backer. He's lithe for his size (246 pounds) and should be the backup to Anthony Spencer and DeMarcus Ware.
Alex Barron, the tackle acquired from St. Louis for linebacker Bobby Carpenter, has impressed the offensive staff with his effort and concentration (two things the Rams always questioned). He's also shown good knee-bend for a tackle, something Dallas didn't have with the beat-up Flozell Adams the past few years. I'm still skeptical of Barron, but third tackle is probably where he should be.
I didn't see first-round wideout Dez Bryant light it up in the two workouts I saw the way he lit it up over the weekend. (Wednesday morning's installation walkthrough for the newbies made it futile to make judgments on players.) But this is how high Bryant's stock is: Two members of the Cowboy hierarchy told me they've got to start ratcheting down the Bryant's-a-superstar talk coming out of camp. So you watch -- you're going to start hearing the coaches say, "This kid's got a long way to go,'' in the next week or so. But deep down, the Cowboys have been wowed by his work ethic, ability to go up and make tough catches, and how quickly he's picking up the offense.
A slimmed-down Nate Newton. The former Cowboy guard -- who does some radio work in the Metroplex and work for the Cowboys on TV -- is down to 260 pounds (from a high of 411) after having a restrictive vertical sleeve gastrectomy, which removes 75 percent of the stomach and replaces it with an artificial sleeve, cutting his appetite down by 75 percent. If I hadn't been told he'd lost a ton of weight, I wouldn't have recognized him when he approached me on the sidelines Tuesday. "I don't have diabetes or high blood pressure anymore,'' he said. "I'm aiming to get to 230.'' He watched Tuesday's workout proudly with his son Tre', a University of Texas running back. Good to see.
Very good lunch selection at the Cowboys training table in the team headquarters, the San Antonio Grand Hyatt Hotel, across the highway from the Alamodome.
Entrée: Bed of lettuces, unpeeled cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, white vinaigrette dressing ... cooked yellow squash on the side ... topped with grilled chicken (from the chicken fajita bowl). On a hot day, the perfect lunch -- light but substantial, with some sort of Tex-Mex spice on the chicken that wasn't too hot.
Extras: Baked tortilla chips. Dasani water. Cup of Seattle's Best Coffee. All good.
Overall Grade: B-plus. If I can be as disciplined with all my meals on this trip, and get this kind of quality roughage, and stay Dairy Queen-free, I shouldn't balloon up too much on the training-camp jaunt.
1. I won't see a team with better 1 to 80 talent (I don't think) on the rest of my trip. If Dallas stays healthy, it'll be a very tough out in the playoffs.
2. There is no tougher road schedule than this one: at Washington, at Houston, at Minnesota, at Green Bay, at the Giants, at Indianapolis, at Arizona, at Philadelphia on New Year's weekend. Look at that schedule. Except for Washington (and this could change, depending on how quickly Donovan McNabb can get that offense going), every one of those teams is a prime playoff contender.
3. The Cowboys seem worried, really worried about only one position -- kicker. That's where David Buehler (last year's kickoff specialist) is favored to beat out Delbert Alvarado. Wise guys here think Dallas will go get Matt Stover or John Carney if the bosses are worried about Buehler in Week 3 of the preseason.
4. What's odd: Listening to vendors in the Alamodome at 9:15 a.m. call out, "Beer here! Miller Lite! Beer here!''
5. Sight I thought I'd never see: Felix Jones (221 pounds) heavier than Marion Barber (214).