The Top 3 Cowboys Camp Battles - From 3 Different Categories

The top 3 camp battles aren't just about people like Mo Claiborne, Dez Bryant, Ezekiel Elliott and Tyron Smith. They will come in the form of one-on-one grace, in the form of the passing of the power baton, and even in the form of psychological brutality.

Mo Claiborne just wants to be part of the battle.

NFL players at training camp don't "compete'' in the same way they used to. The CBA, the salary cap, the rules ... they have all combined to lessen contact, to erase two-a-days, to value "injury-free survival'' of camp above all else.

And yet ... there will be battles.

They will come in the form of one-on-one grace, in the form of the passing of the power baton, and even in the form of psychological brutality. To wit:


Over the course of our three weeks in Oxnard, Calif., shortly after the team's July 28 arrival, wide receivers will line up, single-file, in the shadow of the goalposts on the south end of a practice field. They will be opposed, one-by-one, by a single defender. It'll often be known what route the receiver is running -- a fade route to the corner, say -- and once the ball is delivered by a quarterback ...

One-on-one grace comes into play.

Oh, it's still physical. There is still footwork and hand-fighting and body positioning. But so much of who wins and who loses here is about grace, the ability to control one's body while airborne, and to beat the other man because your hands get to the ball before his hands do, because your hands (as a defender) maybe even grab a ball and retain it ... this is football grace.



Dez Bryant lining up against Orlando Scandrick is the featured event here, for a handful of reasons. a) They haven't been healthy enough at the same time in the last 12 months to participate in this sort of thing. b) They are two of this roster's pre-eminent trash-talkers, so the show begins as they're lining up and continues well after. c) They represent the best in the business at their jobs, certainly on Dallas' roster, and ideally, beyond that.

Where does Claiborne fit in? He'll get Dez, too. And the rest of the receivers. He'll need to exhibit grace, too, as he tries to stay healthy enough to fulfill his wishes, as identified in the video above.


There will be another one-on-one drill, and this will feature a single blocker against a single pass-rusher. It can get nasty, the tangle of arms and legs projecting two 300-pound forces into one another, and macho pride being challenged and displayed. But while offense vs. defense means they're "enemies'' for the moment, there is a trickle-down of teamwork that comes from this, and it's a Cowboys tradition of sorts, and All-Pro left tackle Tyron Smith is the middle chain of this tradition.



A few years ago, in 2011, future Hall-of-Fame pass-rusher DeMarcus Ware was frequently the star of this drill. The kid he victimized? Rookie Tyron Smith. Oh, Smith got in his licks, but mostly this was teacher-vs.-pupil stuff. But then, after the workouts, Ware would invite Smith to his room on the campus of the team's headquarters ... and the two of them would watch film together, including film of their day's work against one another.

In Oxnard, the chance to watch elite offensive linemen work in this drill is a treat. Martin, Frederick, Collins. But mostly, I watch Tyron Smith. Because he will work over the pass-rush kids like Mayowa and Lawrence and Gregory and Irving and Russell ... and then, I bet, he'll later hang out with them to watch film, to continue the chain of teacher to pupil ... to teacher to pupil.


Sean Lee is the guilty party. Always.

As I noted above, others trash-talk. Every year, another collection of Cowboys fans in Oxnard is shocked to learn that classy tight end Jason Witten is as mean-spirited a taunter as exists in the NFL. (He once essentially ordered safety Alan Ball off the field after beating him to a ball ... and now enjoys trying to intimidate Byron Jones, who, of course, isn't going anywhere.) 

But Sean Lee doesn't just talk the talk; he annually initiates a defense-vs.-offense spirit by attacking a member of the "other team'' with a physicality that seesaws on the border of legality ... and the fuse gets lit.

 It'll happen on a running play, a sweep, maybe, as it used to happen to DeMarco Murray every year. It'll be a "non-contact drill,'' but Lee will push the envelope, hit to the echo of the whistle, bash a helmet, strip the ball, and send the runner tumbling violently to the turf. Horrible words will be exchanged, the intensity of the practice will escalate, fears will be explored and wills will be tested.

“Say he lowers his shoulder on me or I take an extra hit on him and throw him down,” Lee once said in explaining his duels with DeMarco, with whom he was and is otherwise friendly. “Usually we both get up and start laughing. We have fun.”



This summer? That "fun'' will be had with rookie Ezekiel Elliott, who is on the verge of becoming this team's star but will first have to endure a football initiation of sorts.

And Sean Lee will eventually trot away from the conflict, back to the huddle, clapping his hands and smiling a crooked smile.


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