The first event of the 2021 training camp for the Dallas Cowboys is officially in the books. That was the press conference held by the brain trust of Jerry and Stephen Jones, and Mike McCarthy. For a little over an hour they took questions.
What they most decidedly did not do was unveil any significant new information. This has always been a bit of performance art and message framing. That does not mean that they did not give us some glimpses of value.
Oxnard and COVID
The first ten minutes were taken up by Jerry’s opening monologue. He spoke about how excited he was, and the team was, to be back in Oxnard and having a somewhat return to normalcy. There were questions about dealing with COVID and he noted that despite some press reports, the Cowboys are doing well in dealing with the protocols and that the team doesn’t expect any issues on that front. He noted that they expect to be able to play anybody they want in the Hall of Fame game in a couple of weeks.
Finally, after nearly 20 minutes, the questions turned to football stuff, and the first topic up was the health of Dak Prescott. The head coach described the quarterback and face of the team to be “the same man every day.” He was pretty unequivocal that Prescott would be a full participant, without the extra protection they afforded him by not have him on the field with the pass rushers. He also talked about how all the players trained and participated during the offseason, including both before and after the OTAs. And not surprisingly, he said this offseason felt like his “first time” with the Cowboys.
Roy White and I discussed our takeaways from the State of the Cowboys presser on the latest episode of Ryled Up. You can listen to this episode above plus make sure to subscribe to the Blogging The Boys podcast network (Apple users can subscribe here and Spotify users can subscribe here) for access to all of the shows that we provide.
Jerry had earlier alluded to the HBO show, with the somewhat disingenuous claim that he was somehow involved in the decision. All reports are that it was basically dictated. But McCarthy had one of the lines of the day when he said he just about wrecked his truck when Jerry called him to tell him about it. He did claim he was now all for it.
Ezekiel Elliott also got a lot of praise from his head coach. He was reportedly in the facility working out two weeks after the end of last season, and continued it throughout the offseason. One actually illuminating bit of info was that Elliott is attending OL and QB meetings. That is real dedication to being fully prepared to contribute.
Outlook for 2021
No one was making any predictions about won-loss records, but Jerry did state that he expects the offense to come out on fire, and that the defense under Dan Quinn will be much better with the big infusion of new bodies. Stephen also added that the offseason seemed very effective in addressing the problems of last season.
However, Stephen also did a top level bob-and-weave about whether the team was looking to bring in new players, especially with a vacancy on the 90-man roster. He stuck with his standard “365 day a year” acquisition process boilerplate.
McCarthy specifically talked about how they felt they added size and length to the defensive line so it was more on par with the offensive line. He talked about how in the halcyon days of the early 1990s the field “tilted” when the Cowboys came out of the ramp.
Another thing that McCarthy seemed to be truthful about was how he wants to see things develop “organically” when they get on the field. He spoke of how leaders are grown, and that can include rookies.
Jerry also waxed eloquent in his praise of Randy Gregory, speaking of how he “stayed the course” and addressed his personal issues. That is something he brings over to the field, and Jerry obviously has high expectations of the talented pass rusher. He stressed how the team never gave up on Gregory, and now they believe they will get to take advantage of him “having a lot of tread left” due to the numerous suspensions that spared him a lot of banging around.
Looking for Haley
Jerry gave an interesting answer when asked about what the team needed to turn the corner. He said they were looing for a Charles Haley, which seems to be a direct comparison to Gregory. He also mentioned the impact of Deion Sanders. However, he went on to claim he was not trying to draw too many parallels to the 90s dynasty, particularly in respect to the triplets of Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith, and Michael Irvin. He did show some hope that some of the current stars could grow to that level. But in addressing who would emerge as the leader of this team, he specifically said “maybe it’s the quarterback.”
McCarthy agreed, specifically referencing what he expects Quinn to bring to the table.
The mission in camp
This was perhaps the meatiest part of the conference. McCarthy discussed what the objectives of camp are. He stressed the need to identify who would be on the 53-man roster. He also said that the staff would get things in focus in the second or third preseason game, with the Cowboys having the advantage of the extra one with the Hall of Fame game.
He said that the early part of his camps have been about going back through the install, but he plans to reduce that and move much more rapidly into situational football. He is focused on the last half of the fourth quarter when close games are won or lost. He will tailor practices on a daily basis based on what he sees.
The OTA penalty
McCarthy joked a bit about his fine, but said that the penalty assessed by the league was the result of trying too hard, which he will take. He also mentioned that a lot of younger players who are less familiar with the rules were involved, and that it will be treated as a learning experience.
Jerry gets personal
As things wound down, Jerry got into storytelling mode. He spoke about how he has been called naïve, how that reflects his overall positive outlook on life. In his experience, that approach yields much better results than skepticism and negativity. It is not a bad life philosophy, really.
Then he related the story of when Barry Switzer came to discuss taking the head coaching job, and was disappointed that Jimmy Johnson had already left the building. Switzer said he wanted to “sit you (bleep) down on that couch and explain how you (bleeped) it up.” That led to a baring of the soul as Jerry nearly broke down talking about he had (bleeped) it up, and didn’t know how.
No matter what else you think of the owner and GM, there is no question he is at least as deeply invested in his team as anyone else in the league.