Necessary toughness

SAN ANTONIO - Football teams, by their very nature, are filled with tough guys.

Linemen strong enough to move a house, running backs able to take the pounding of running between the tackles, kick returners who stand fearlessly under the ball while a wave of hostile opponents comes sprinting his way, the kamikazes whose job it is to throw themselves into opponents while busting a wedge on special teams, and of course the quarterback who can stand tall in the pocket and hold on to the ball until the very last second before throwing into the teeth of an oncoming pass rush … toughness required of just about everyone on every team.

But the toughest member of the Cowboys at Wednesday's practice had to be special teams coach Joe DeCamillis. When the team's Valley Ranch practice facility collapsed in a vicious storm in May, DeCamillis got caught in the wreckage, breaking his neck and undergoing surgery.

When the team gathered a few weeks later for its first OTA, there was DeCamillis, out on the field again. The Cowboys' first-year special teams coach already had established himself as one of the most visible — and audible — people on the field during the team's rookie mini-camp, running all over the field barking instructions at his new players. When he was driven to Standridge Stadium in Carrollton for OTAs, players seemed awed by his mere presence, and listened to everything he said … but just in case, he used a bullhorn to amplify his commands.

Now in San Antonio for training camp, DeCamillis is back out on the field again, and if not for the brace he still wears on his neck — he said doctors told him he'll have to wear it until Aug. 10 — it would be hard to tell he had been injured at all. The team opened practice with special teams drills, and DeCamillis was everywhere, meticulously watching as players got into their blocking stances, and chiding the players who didn't get on and off the field fast enough while the team simulated last-second field goals.

"It was great to have the support of the Dallas people," DeCamillis said. "The prayers and all of the thoughts that they've given myself and my family were outstanding. The people at Parkland Hospital were outstanding. So it's a humbling experience, and it's a great experience from the standpoint of … to know that people care about you that much."

At Tuesday's press conference to open training camp, head coach Wade Phillips called DeCamillis "an inspiration."

"I appreciate Coach saying that," DeCamillis said. "I really like that — it's great for him to say that. But I don't look at it as that. I just look at it as doing my job. The players — the first time I came in (to OTAs), they were a little bit surprised, and then after that, they were probably not real happy I was there because I was on their butts too much."

DeCamillis refuses to rehash the collapse of the practice facility, but admitted that the event changed him, and made him appreciate this year's training camp more than any other in his career.

"Yeah, but if you're in a car wreck that happens," he said. "But like I said, this is my 22nd year, my 22nd training camp, and by far and away, this is the one I was most excited for.

"I'm excited to be here — for a lot of reasons."

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