And just like that, the Cowboys suddenly have a game to get ready for. Sure, debate the merits of the Hall of Fame Game and just how closely it actually resembles regular-season action, but it’s a critical step nonetheless in the team’s 2021 training camp schedule. And it’s still “our guys versus their guys” as players prepare for enemy fire.
Just how much any of the Dallas starters will play remains to be seen, but several of the roster’s top talents are already on the shelf for Thursday night’s exhibition skirmish against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Among the Cowboys who will be watching only are quarterback Dak Prescott, wide receiver Amari Cooper, edge rusher DeMarcus Lawrence, and kicker Greg Zuerlein.
None were likely to take many snaps in Canton (if any), but if that were the inactive list for a real game, there would be borderline panic. As it is, head coach Mike McCarthy is already thinking about the injury status of his team.
“Our injury list is getting a little long,” McCarthy told the media during a pre-practice press conference in Oxnard on Sunday. “We play Thursday night, we get back here very late Friday, and then we have the competitive practice Saturday against the Rams. So I’m focusing on the balance of reps between the game and that Saturday practice, because that’s almost like a two-part focus for us… I’ve got to make sure I take care of the roster from a health standpoint.”
The Cowboys have two full preseason games- plus the aforementioned joint practice alongside the Rams in between- all in the next 13 days. It will be a punishing stretch for players already nursing dings from practice sessions.
Prescott hasn’t thrown since he left Wednesday’s practice- the team’s first with pads this camp- early. Tests revealed a muscle strain in his right shoulder. But McCarthy says the minor setback for Prescott didn’t alter his practices as backups Garrett Gilbert, Ben DiNucci, and Cooper Rush got more work with the offense.
“The script for these first eight practices really don’t change,” McCarty explained. “The target is about getting the installs in.”
Cooper, Lawrence, and Zuerlein have yet to participate in team-on-team drills. The club hasn’t expressed any worry about them being ready to go by Week 1, but McCarthy is cognizant of the need to keep his players from pushing things too hard during the offseason.
“There’s a sense, in talking to the staff: some of these guys we’ve got to protect from themselves,” McCarthy said. “Their training is so over the top.”
The good news is that training will start to fall away the closer the team gets to the established and repetitive rituals of the regular season. The coach admits that will become easier to do once the Cowboys return to their home at The Star in Frisco.
“Once we get into next week, we’re going to start trying to get into an in-season mode. We’re coming to the point in training camp where you’ve got to transition your team out of install-football into in-season football. You’ve got to get everybody regulated.”
The California trip has been a fun re-entry into gridiron normalcy, and still has nearly two weeks to go. But the intensity is about to get cranked up a little higher once the players square off against guys wearing different uniforms.
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