A few days of hopping around the West Coast, and we finally settled in to one spot for a few days. As you’ve seen on Twitter and on here, we’ve spent the last few days chillin’ in Oxnard, Calif. with the Cowboys. (Here is my training camp report.)
As we head back East, let’s review… How was Oxnard?
— I like the idea of a training camp in a random small city away from the team facility. And after being in Oxnard for a few days (my first off-site spot), I like it even more. It’s not just the camp mentality that it builds, with players away from their family and only having one thing to concentrate on for a three-week period. It’s also the fan atmosphere that it creates, which is not as important but kinda important. A ton of native Californians in this town are now Cowboys fans. That’s random and cool.
— On the other hand, there is really nothing to do in Oxnard. In fact, most media peeps stay in a nearby town just to have restaurants and whatever else available. That’s bad for us… but good for the players. If there are guys on this team that need to avoid distractions, this is a great place to do it. The only kinda odd thing is that players have their rooms just off the field. Fans see them walk in and out of their hotel rooms, for instance. The onus is really on the fans to be respectful, I guess. But otherwise, nice spot. And the weather was absolutely perfect. On the other hand, with this incredibly diligent media crew, no one can relax. And that’s excellent. Everything gets covered.
— As for the actual football, I wish I was there for full-pads and hitting. But I wasn’t. Still, seeing the guys run around for two days wasn’t bad. This has been an intense camp. One thing you can tell quickly is how fast it is. And the tempo is really good. Also, even though there aren’t pads. players are still hand-fighting, and pseudo-blocking and whatever else. Running backs still are thudded sometimes. That’s really what you like to see. I can only imagine the heads of some of the rookies are swimming with how fast they are going. Dallas’ idea of having a rookies/youngsters practice for an hour before the real practice starts is a nice touch.
— There are a bunch of good camp battles here, and competition is key. That’s a main focus. “Our team has a lot of guys like that, who want to get better, who want to compete, and we need to go out and have that production out on the field,” QB Tony Romo said. The best ones are Dan Connor vs. Bruce Carter at inside linebacker, the battle to fill-in for injured guard Mackenzy Bernadeau, and the fight for the third receiver spot. Some thoughts? Undrafted free agent Ronald Leary looks good at guard, it’s not a good sign for Carter that they brought Carter in, and Dwayne Harris has looked solid at receiver while Andre Holmes tried to pass his conditioning test. One thing that sticks out is when I asked TE Jason Witten in Tahoe, isn’t he really the third receiver? “I don’t know, I hope so,” Witten told me. “I think there is a lot to be said when the third receiver comes into play, you can do a lot of different things. You can never have enough. That’s the way this league’s going, I think we got the right guys, guys that will step up and take advantage of the opportunity.” Let’s be honest. Witten is the No. 3 target.
— I thought Tony Romo made an interesting point when discussing the failings last year at the end of the games. Yes, the Cowboys lost a bunch. But they also came back in some. The point, one would think, is to put the hammer down and avoid those close games. Fewer turnovers, pull away from teams and put it away. “I know we talk about the five that we lost, but we look at the four or five that we won, and we find that the games were really similar,” Romo pointed out. “Honestly, we just had way too many games that came down to a possession. If you have, eight, 10 games that are coming down to either making that play or not, you’re not going to go 8-0, 9-0 in those situations. We need to make it so we don’t have as many, so you only have five of them, so you go 4-1 in them…. that is what we really came away with. We need to be better getting to that point.”
— Coach Jason Garrett is hitting his stride as a press conference performer. I know, I know, not his most important job. But he was really fantastic this week. Ask him something, and he really explains it. Like, about how he watches film. He simply told you. “I can tell you how we watch film,” Garrett said. “We try to critically analyze what we are asking our players to do. It’s really a simple process. There are so many different ways to learn. We really talk a lot about this as coaches. How do players learn the game of football. They learn by what we say to them. They learn by what we show them on a written page. They learn by how we teach them, demonstrate to them, and walk throughs, practices, those are all involved. A really valuable tool is watching what you have done. The golf industry knows this.”
— Tough not to like CB Brandon Carr and his demeanor. Just has kind of a funny way of saying what he thinks. Did he always want to be a football player? “I thought about being a pediatrician in the fourth grade,” he said. OK then. Did he have a party when signed his contract? “Nah. I like to save my money.” How do you know when receivers get tired of being pressed? “Sometimes they tell you.”
— DeMarco Murray doesn’t mess around. Very business-like. For instance, he was asked how long it’ll take him to get acclimated to FB Lawrence Vickers. The simple answer? Whenever. “We’ve had enough time to get a feel for each other. You can’t use that as an excuse,” he said. Very no nonsense. Like he runs.