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NFL Training Camp Joint Practices: Who Is Pairing Up With Cowboys?

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Under Jason Garrett, the Cowboys have held joint practices with another NFL team in four out of five training camps. Who could be this year's training camp partner?

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The Cowboys will report to training camp in Oxnard on July 28 with their first practice set for July 29, the league-mandated 15 days prior to the first preseason game against the Rams on August 13.

The Cowboys will break camp in Oxnard on August 18, play the Dolphins in Dallas on August 19 and then resume training camp in Frisco at their new headquarters and training facilities.

The Cowboys don't schedule joint practices every year, but they have done it frequently enough in the past that for Cowboys fans they have become a routine part of training camp. In 2014, the Cowboys held joint practices with the Raiders, and before skipping a year in 2013, had joint workouts with the Chargers in 2011 and 2012 when Norv Turner was still the head coach in San Diego. Before that, the Cowboys frequently had such joint workouts with the Broncos and Raiders.

Last year, the Cowboys held joint practices with the Rams, but those practices degenerated into extended brawls that ultimately led to the cancellation of the second day of scheduled joint practices. It's safe to say that there won't be any further practices with the Rams until they see changes at the top of their coaching staff, as Jason Garrett explained in the most diplomatic terms possible.

"But you have to have a similar approach as an organization. We want to get the same thing out of this. We are not interested in fighting. We are interested in making these couple of days we are together productive. If we can find a team that we have shared valued with, it can be a productive time for your team."

The trick with these joint practices of course is to not let them degenerate into a two-day brawl, as they often did when the Cowboys and Raiders met up in the 90s. At that time, the joint practices were largely a product of the close relationship Jerry Jones had with Al Davis.

But which team could the Cowboys pair up with this year?

The Rams are out, even though they have their training camp just a few miles down the road in Thousand Oaks where the Cowboys have also spent many a training camp.

Geographically, the Raiders, Chargers, 49ers, and possibly the Seahawks, Cardinals, or Broncos might make sense.

The 49ers have already committed to joint practices with the Texans and Broncos this year, so they're likely out for the Cowboys. The Broncos are probably be out as well, as they already have the 49ers coming to Denver prior to the second preseason game. Also, they're playing their first preseason game in Chicago, so adding Oxnard to their travel itinerary prior to that may be a bit much.

Joint practices are often held in the week before the two teams meet in the preseason, and the Chargers and Cardinals are doing just that as they are tentatively scheduled to hold joint practices before the two teams meet for their second preseason game on August 19 in San Diego.

The Cowboys are traveling to Seattle for their third preseason game, so there's a chance they could travel there early and get in a couple of joint practices. But that would mean skipping at least three days at their new Frisco training facility, which the Cowboys plan on opening with great fanfare this year, so that doesn't feel like something Jerry Jones would want to do.

All of which leaves the Raiders as the most likely training camp partner. The added attraction of practicing against the Raiders is that their fans bring a lot of energy to the atmosphere in Oxnard, so much so that the Cowboys and Raiders fans were separated the last time the two teams met for joint practices in 2014. But the Cowboys liked what they got from the joint sessions.

Dallas Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett considered the emotionally charged atmosphere for the team’s joint practices with the Oakland Raiders – created in large part by having Cowboys fans on one side of the facility and Raiders fans on the other – to be a great thing.

"I thought it was a fantastic day of practice," Garrett said. "I really did. It was as electric an atmosphere as I’ve been around on a practice field, really in my life. Our offense had a tremendous home-field advantage over there with a lot of Cowboys fans on the offensive side and the defense was playing on the road a little bit. But I just thought the atmosphere was great.

"I thought both teams handled it really well. We talked about scratch, claw, fight from snap to whistle. A couple of times it boiled over after the whistle, but I thought the teams did a great job just getting separated and getting back to work."

So unless the Cowboys pull a rabbit out of the hat and entice another team to fly out to California, the Raiders are the most likely choice as a partner for joint practices - unless the Cowboys decide not to pair up with anybody else this year.

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Joint practices can help break up the monotony of training camp, but they can also help improve player evaluation. As camp wears on, players begin figuring out and keying in on offensive and defensive tendencies of their teammates on the other side of the ball, which can make them look better than they actually are.

Practicing against an opponent that uses different schemes will give the players a new and different challenge, and gives coaches and scouts new and different film to evaluate. It also provides players with the opportunity to practice (and show up on film) in a "live" environment, especially since coaches usually script these practices.

Coaches can work their two-minute drills, practice 3rd-down situations, throw in some red zone work, and check out how the new wrinkles they've added in the offseason stand up against real competition. All in a controlled, scripted environment - something they won't get in the four preseason games.

Even though preseason games may not be real NFL football, they are still real games, where the play calls depend on the ebb and flow of the game. Your first team offense may not get a red zone possession before they hit their allotted snap count; your return unit may end up with a bunch of touchbacks and no returns; and the new play-action defense you just installed may not get tested because the other team had no interest in play-action.

All of this can be properly managed in a joint practice, where you can ensure the entire depth chart gets the reps they need. Because the practices are scripted, each team gets to practice exactly what they want - against NFL caliber competition.

And just as importantly, the joint practices allow veterans to get situational snaps in practice and then watch players on the bubble play in their stead in the preseason games, which will keep a team's key players out of the trainer's room or doctor's office in August and ready to go in September.

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Notable joint practices already announced:

  • 49ers and Texans
  • 49ers and Broncos
  • Lions and Steelers
  • Chargers and Cardinals
  • Jaguars and Buccaneers
  • Jaguars and Browns
  • Bears and Patriots
  • Vikings and Bengals (unconfirmed)

Teams ruling out joint practices in 2016: Chiefs, Ravens, Colts, Packers