OXNARD, Calif. -- For once, the police were the ones being escorted as the Dallas Cowboys took the field with officers and families members of the slain DPD and DART officers Saturday to commence training camp. Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings and Chief of Police David Brown were among the escorted and later spoke to the team before the team's first practice.
"I want to say thank you to the Dallas Cowboys for lifting up our city today," Mayor Rawlings said. "They lifted the city up because they lifted up a lot of individuals who have been down up today. Those families, those young kids to be arm in arm with a quarterback, a coach, a big lineman. They'll remember that for the rest of their lives."
Chief Brown, a third-generation Dallas resident and longtime Cowboys fan, had goosebumps from the outpouring of support from the Cowboys.
"This moment here is overwhelming," said Brown. "Our profession, and I've repeated this, hadn't seen a lot of support from communities because of a lot of problems we'd seen with police relationship. So support like this is really priceless. It's priceless to have a sports team, a major sports team like the Cowboys, show this kind of support for the police department. And not to take a position on right or wrong about something that happened in another city is the right or wrong position to take here in Dallas. It's showing support for the men and women in blue who sacrifice their lives every day to protect our citizens.
"So this is overwhelmingly, really, I've got chill bumps. I'm a Dallas Cowboy fan. I'm a three-generation Dallasite. So, this is overwhelming for me and the families, who are Cowboys fans. So this is special and we will never forget the Cowboy organization stepping up in our time of grief."
Though the Jones family and the organization gets the credit for bringing families out to training camp, it was tight end Jason Witten who formulated the idea to honor the survivors of those fallen in the line of duty.
Said Witten: "That was a really special day. It was a very special day as an organization and as players. I'll say this. It's a privilege to play in the NFL and play for the Dallas Cowboys. I think that's a gateway to special, unique experiences and opportunities for us as players. And I think more than anything else it leads to responsibility, responsibility to the generations that come before us and to young kids that look up to us as role models. And really responsibility to the community which everybody as players and the organization felt."
Safety Barry Church wanted the community to know the team was behind the families and the Dallas Police Department.
"We're just out here trying to support the police force and the communities and this police force that was struck by this tragic event," Church said. "We're just going to stay in arm-in-arm the best we can because out here we're just playing a game. What they have to deal with is real life. And if we can just lift spirits by what we're doing out here and just stay arm-in-arm and support their cause, I'm with that."
Demonstrating such loving support for the city and the families and asking the Chief of Police to address the team ahead of washing away a 4-12 nightmare in 2015 is what Mayor Rawlings called a "mythic moment."
"There are mythic moments in history in histories of cities," said Rawlings. "We went through a terrible one a few weeks ago. This hopefully is a mythic moment to take us to the next level. And as I reminded the team today: they'll always be the Cowboys, but this year play for Dallas like they have never played before."
Chief Brown encouraged the ensemble team to lend their voice in society on race relations, police shootings, and supporting the police.
Said Brown: "I talked about responsibility in playing a role in our society as pro athletes to have a voice in the conversation about race, to have a voice in the conversation about communities, police departments, police-involved shootings; all the things that we see on the national news regarding what happened that, as a younger person, 21 years old, I became a police officer 33 years ago because of crack cocaine being sold in my neighborhood. I forgoed my senior year in college to become part of the solution."
"He said the same thing that I think we all said a few days after the tragedy hit," Witten said. "Take a stand. We have a platform. We're difference-makers. We understand that. I think I speak on behalf of all of our teammates. They did a lot of good. They understand that. I think it's in the spirit of understanding what you want to do."
Witten is anything but a spring chicken, yet the 14-year veteran and his best friend quarterback still get pumped for the rigors of training camp.
"[Romo and Witten] love it," said head coach Jason Garrett. "They’re two of the best competitors I’ve ever been around in my life. They’re two of the best character people I’ve ever been around in my life. Football character, personal character. You want them to marry your sister. You want them to marry your daughter. They’re just fantastic people that love to play this game. They do everything they need to do to play this game at the highest level, for themselves and for our football team. And they’re great leaders. We’re just fortunate to have them, fortunate to coach them."
The 10-time Pro Bowler felt "fortunate" just to be able to play the game.
Said Witten: "I’m fortunate to play this game. It’s a special privilege, unique privilege to have this opportunity. I start from the beginning. I want to try to be the best, but you’ve got to go work at it. I want to win, I want to be a part of guys that have that shared commitment that I have and be a part of a team that we’re proud to be a part of. I think that comes with work. This is an unbelievable opportunity to get back out there. I’m excited and get better and hopefully be able to contribute to our team."
Forget being one of two players, the other being Romo, to remain on the team since 2003. Witten is one of 12 players left in the league from that draft class. Rather than seeing the window as closing, Witten sees it as "now."
“Hey, the window is now," Witten declared. "That’s clear. You’ve been asking me that for five years. Look, I feel great and ready to go. The window is now and it’s that way for the entire organization. I think that’s great to have that approach."
Witten demonstrated that "approach'' even when taking the field for the morning walkthough.
FOCUSED ON TODAY
At his presser, Garrett would not address whether he talked to the team about linebacker Rolando McClain and defensive end Randy Gregory not being with the team on the first day of camp.
"We're just focused on the players who are here," said Garrett.
The players who were there though not in uniform were running backs Lance Dunbar and Darren McFadden, who participated in conditioning drills off to the side during practice. Linebackers Jaylon Smith and Damien Wilson were in uniform, and Smith was off to the side working with resistance cords. Maliek Collins was also in uniform for the start of camp but did not participate.
McFadden joked with Fish that since he was signing lots of autographs after practice, both of his elbows must be close to healthy. And as we noticed early in the day and throughout the day, Jaylon is recognizable not only because of his unique hairstyle, but also because of his permanently-wide smile.
Fish will have an "exclusive exclusive" with Jaylon for Cowboys Premium fans coming up.
The club also worked out and signed linebackers Darius Eubanks and Henoc Muamba. Eubanks was with the club back in October for a brief stint, while Muamba has been a CFL player who spent the 2014 season with the Indianapolis Colts. The expectation is for these players to be camp bodies and help the club transition from 90 players down to 53.
GOING AGAINST AIR
For the first two weeks of camp, the Cowboys offense and defense won't practice against each other, but rather will go against air and each other within the respective units until Monday.
Said Garrett: "We think it’s in our best interest to be deliberate as we start camp and let them get their football feet, their football legs beneath them in a situation where they’re not competing against someone. Often times that’s where guys get hurt because they’re not quite ready, they’re not quite reacting to the way their body needs to react when they’re in a competitive situation, And sometimes you get some injuries as a result of that. We’ve always felt it’s the right thing to do."
The Cowboys first instituted this acclimation to training camp in 2013.
Tony Romo is not fat. Maybe somebody used a camera that is fat. Tony Romo is fine, and threw the ball well, showing no negative aftereffects of his collarbone surgery. And that should be the story here.
Ron Leary is also not fat. He looks to be in better shape that ever. He and the rest of the O-line traveled in a pack throughout the day, as they always do. (There continue to be trade-bait rumors with this O-line, there are now rumors about DE Dwight Freeney landing in Atlanta, and we still think the Cowboys will eventually acquire a pass-rusher to help this club.)
*Justin Durant said he contemplated retirement before opting to return to Dallas following a year in Atlanta. "It was the right move for me,'' said Durant, who has position flex at linebacker as does Sean Lee, though he told Fish he's planning to stay at WILL.
*Orlando Scandrick is the starting left corner where most of opposing teams' throws figure to go. Brandon Carr and Mo Claiborne will battle for time at the other corner. And of course, when Scandrick moves to the slot (which is often) all three will play.
*Looks like Dallas is giving Ryan Russell a chance to play both ends. Remember, Benson Mayowa (knee) isn't ready yet, though he seems to be making rapid progress. Oh, and on the other side of the ball, Gavin Escobar is the "healthy surprise.'' He even participated in the tight-end fun to close the Saturday session .
Russell is the least-accomplished starter out here, but he's speaking like he's about to put some skins on the wall.
"We have enough pass rush out here to be the best defensive unit in the league and the best defensive line in the league, and I truly believe that," Russell is quoted as saying in the DMNews. "We're very young and we're all very ambitious. No one is looking at us. No one is really worried about us, so we have nothing to lose. The talent is phenomenal. We have so much talent that people just haven't seen yet. That's not their fault, they haven't seen us. We're definitely going to shock the world."
That all seems grossly premature to us. But it would be nice if it worked out that way.
*Kellen Moore told us he realizes that even though this is the first time he's been as high as No. 2 on an NFL depth chart, he needs to perform at a high level to stay there. No surprise that he takes an intellectual approach to this.
*Fish peppered Travis Frederick with questions about coming contract negotiations. “Obviously it would be fun to stick in one place and make something work,” Frederick said. “But I have people that deal with that for me, so I don’t have to worry about it. We’ll see how it works out.”
*The Cowboys are taking it slow with Dez Bryant. But he's a bundle of energy, as always. After practice, he trotted into the locker room but made a quick U-turn after grabbing T-Will and Beasley, then let the three of them for an autograph-and-photo session with a group of little kids.
THE FINAL WORD
"Rolling out of bed during camp is always the hardest,'' rookie running back Ezekiel Elliott tweeted jokingly this morning, as Day 2 of camp is about to begin. "Sad thing is ... That was only the first day.''