Familiar newcomer

IRVING, Tex. - When the Dallas Cowboys gathered for the first day of the team's first Optional Team Activity...

When the Dallas Cowboys gathered for the first day of the team's first Optional Team Activity, the returning veterans were joined by wide-eyed rookies and free agents hoping to make a good impression on the Dallas coaching staff as they began learning their new team's coaches, offensive and defensive schemes and terminology.

For defensive end Igor Olshansky, however, the adjustment period likely will be brief; he said Tuesday that after one pads-free workout, he already feels comfortable.

Olshansky has a decided advantage over the other new faces who took the field in the silver and blue for the first time Tuesday.

Olshansky already knows his role. He knows his new team's defense. He knows his coach, and what is expected of him. He signed as an unrestricted free agent in the offseason after playing his first five NFL seasons with the San Diego Chargers; for the first three, of those seasons, his defensive coordinator was current Dallas head coach Wade Phillips.

"I'm very comfortable — it's the same defense I've been playing the last five years, so everything's great," Olshansky said after his first workout with his new team.

Olshansky admitted that part of the reason he chose to accept the Cowboys' offer was for the change to reunite with Phillips.

"It was partially (the chance to play again for Phillips)," he said, "and partially because Dallas is a great team for me to come to. To be a part of it is an honor and a privilege, so you've got to jump at an opportunity to be a part of an organization like this."

The desire to rejoin Phillips makes sense for Olshansky, who had two of his three best statistical seasons under Phillips, including his second season in 2007, when he set career highs with 49 tackles, 3.5 sacks and his only career interception.

"Coach Phillips kind of vouched for me, and the fact that I would do the same thing for him here that I did for the first three years, when I played for him in San Diego," Olshansky said. "I know my role, and I know what they want me to do — it's to be a physical player up front and dominate the line of scrimmage."

Even on a 3-4 defense that requires massive defensive ends, Olshansky will stand out. The 6-foot-6, 309-pounder who was born in Dnepropetrovsk, Ukraine, looks like a cross between Dolph Lundgren's "Ivan Drago" character and a tattooed bouncer at a biker bar. His long-ish hair doesn't quite reach his enormous shoulders, each of which is adorned with an array of tribal tattoos and looked like it might bust through his jersey … and that was without shoulder pads.

His aura took a slight hit because of the brace he wore Tuesday on his right knee, but he was quick to point out that it is a precautionary leftover from a three-year-old injury, not an indication of any lingering damage.

"I tore my MCL in '06, in the first game of the season," he said. "I missed three games that year, but then I came back and played the rest of the year — it hasn't bothered me at all since then."

Olshansky acknowledged that he might be able to play without the brace, but sees no reason to ditch it now.

"I feel comfortable on it," Olshansky said, "and I think it's better for me and better for the team that I stay healthy."

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