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A virtual Dallas Cowboys practice

 

Severe displacement disorder.

After waking up and thinking of nothing but getting to the next practice for over a week, I find myself staring at my computer screen, and dreaming of a three dimensional football practice, while looking at the two dimensional version that most of us get. I like the three dimensional version better, preferably in IMAX.

I find myself looking for Adam Jones out on the field early, white gloves on, limbering up and thinking of nothing but T.O. But that’s in Oxnard and I’m back in Atlanta. I can only see it in my mind’s eye. There’s Tank Johnson, always on the field early, warpaint in place, coming over to his corner of the field, saying hello to “his corner” - the fans in the disabled area. Then he turns to everybody and talks to them before becoming the ringleader of the jokes when the rest of the defensive line saunters over. Checkout Captain Caveman, on the field early getting stretched out, always one of the first out there and the guy who surprised me the most in camp. Bobby Carpenter came to play in this training camp and now turns his eye towards preseason.

The rest of the team makes their way out of the locker room. In singles, or sometimes groups of two or three. Some get a small cheer, a few calls from the crowd. But mostly it just rolls along as the field fills up. Then you hear an isolated, but very loud cheer, followed by a ripple effect around the stadium (if you can all it that). Tony Romo jogs down towards the field, usually one of the last ones, to a loud ovation. Romo generally holds up a hand or a helmet to greet the fans, and then goes the 30-yards or so to the warm-up area for the QB’s, C’s, RB’s and TE’s. Tony wears his Cheshire cat grin the whole time, knowing that he’s living the good life, but quickly gets down to warm-ups, all business when he’s on the field. Still, we’re missing one player at our virtual practice, he’s definitely the last one coming out and he gets a huge pop from the crowd - the spandex-one has arrived. T.O. loves the fans and interacts with them more than any player. There he is, walking down the fence-line, shaking hands like a politician, or signing an autograph or two, or maybe you’ll get him doing the T.O. cheer – arms out to your side in a “T” then over the head in an “O” and don’t forget to say the name. During practice, he’ll waive his arms up and down to get the crowd going, always the showman but with the goods to back it up. And if you heckle him like one idiot did, he tell you to shut your stupid [behind] up.

Now the two fields are full, with the far one a sea of blue, the color for the defense. On the near field in white, the offense is making a few handoffs, throwing a few passes, and the big boys get loosened up. They come together to stretch, then they break apart for a long period of drills for each position or group. This usually goes on for a while. They might hit the sled, or practice hand-fighting, the QB’s will throw the tree with the WR’s, the offensive line is usually practicing technique. Over in the far corner of the far field, the DB’s are catching interceptions or they’re practicing footwork against each other. These are the daily drills, the regular routines in practice - the fundamentals.

When the horn sounds once, it’s time for a water break and some jokes among the mass of players. Offense and defense chilling together, waiting for the horn to blow twice and the start of the next session. At this point we see them move to the team drills. One day you get 7-on-7 with the OL/DL battling each other at each ends of one field. Maybe we’ll get lucky and it’s directly to 11-on-11, the only thing we get to see that’s close to a scrimmage. When they finish that you know what’s coming, it’s the orange beanies, time to relax. Special teams, where players stand on the field for long stretches getting instruction then do a play that is really half-speed anyway. Sure you can watch Folk nailing FG’s or AJ catching some punts, but compared to the rest of practice this is the dead zone. Up next, some more team drills, maybe a 9-on-9 running drill while the CB’s and WR’s are going at it on the other end. Follow that up with another special teams session and then practice almost always closes with 11-on-11. Occasionally, they’ll do a redzone version or a 2-minute offense at the very end.

If you’re inclined, you can wait after practice to get some autographs. But if you need to report everything you saw, you beat a hasty exit to the car and on to the internet. Suddenly, you’re back in the two dimensional world trying to describe the three dimensional.

Over the next couple of days I’ll break down the offense and defense, and even throw in some special teams based on everything I saw in camp. Don’t forget, to get a taste of life at training camp with a lot more access than I ever get, HBO’s Hard Knocks debuts tonight.

That will be great viewing, but it doesn’t beat the real thing.