By Will Martin
Springtime makes for hope eternal. Springtime speaks to new beginnings. It is also in Springtime that a rite of passage goes on ever so quietly and discreetly…unless you live in Texas where the idea of football is a 24/7 proposition. Make no mistake. Unlike any other sport, football in Texas is beyond serious, beyond a religion, beyond anything you can comprehend. It is life and death for some.
That sort of mind frame is what you experience when attending the yearly Rookie OTAs at any NFL Training Camp. Since the subject at hand here is the Dallas Cowboys the interest is always high. The curiosity factor is also grounds for discussion amongst the coaches, the players, and the pundits.
While the Byron Nelson was in Round Three mode down the road in Irving, Valley Ranch was in its second day of Rookie OTAs amongst the newly drafted kids from the 2014 NFL Draft along with some outside hopefuls looking to get a shot, make the taxi-squad, make the team.
Early morning May 17th the first of two practices are going on at Valley Ranch. The guys wearing the white jerseys are the offense. Those wearing the dark blue jerseys are the defense. For roughly an hour in the morning and another hour in the afternoon there will be agility drills, light scrimmaging, stretching, more than anything becoming familiarized with life in the NFL once you make the team. Accountability is a mantra that gets hammered into you.
There you will see Jason Garrett talking to the team about doing things the Cowboy way. You’ll also see Bill Callahan and Rod Marinelli start to look through the bodies and see who the bright diamond might be amongst the crew of talent. You also have a chance to look at those who were indeed drafted.
Rounding out that list we rehash the names of wideout Devin Street, birthday boy Terrance Mitchell at cornerback, 7th round picks Ahmad Dixon and Will Smith from Baylor and Texas Tech at safety and linebacker. Linebacker Anthony Hitchens, nose tackle Ken Bishop, defensive end Ben Gardner, with first and second rounders DeMarcus Lawrence and Zack Martin.
Players with a desire, a hope, and a dream to make the Dallas Cowboys. A dream shared by so many over the years. One of the niceties of following Rookie OTAs is getting a chance to talk to some of the new kids and get some perspective where they are coming from.
Thursday morning we learned about out the new DeMarcus becoming a proud Daddy. This meant a trip back to Boise to be there for the birth of his son. Lawrence spoke about fatherhood and being a part of the Dallas Cowboys scheme post practice.
Now having access to a video camera to be able to watch some of the different drills going on during the course of a practice you get an appreciation for all the nuances of drills, repetitions, muscle memory.
On the one end you will see one set of drills that players must be keen and adept on, like the offense!
Playing on the side of the ball where you have to keep your emotions in check, fully utilize the abilities of proper arm extension, leg movement, technique and tendency is no short order. Contrast that with the reckless abandon that you expect and hope for from the guys on the opposite side of the line. Therein lies the defense!
Of course it doesn’t matter who you are on any given day or moment that which every person looks forward to is actual scrimmaging even if it means there will be no helmets or physical contact per se. Being in the act of a simulated play gets the blood flowing and the juices going. Much like a family gathering during the holidays all roles get reprised and you fall into the stereotype of the position you play.
Scrimmaging also provides you with an opportunity to dream, to visualize, to look ahead to the fall for better or worse. You ponder that schedule and you think about that opponent and consider what could happen. Easy little flare outs and handoffs and the mind wants to take on a bunker mentality, win at all costs.
I know its only May but this is Texas, and this is football. So…
Morning practice goes about 1 hour. You familiarize yourself with names and jersey numbers. You jot down which players showed the most heart, grit, determination, and ability and lock it away in case that rookie indeed makes the grade. Once we get past Zack Martin and DeMarcus Lawrence its anybodies guess what might happen or who ends up on the roster come Oxnard time.
It’s only May, and it’s only rookies, and it’s only practice, but the eyes are up on thee. At no time are you to show weakness or be lackadaisical or tentative. If you get but one look that first impression may be all that you remembered by so…
Things will become a little more interesting when the veterans arrive for OTAs in a few weeks. For one day the kids worked, they learned, they observed, they played to the whistle, and they got their first taste of what life is going to be like in the NFL in 2014…and onward.
For fans of the Dallas Cowboys that is beyond a full time job. It’s a labor of Love and Indifference. Still a fun day for the rookies.