OK, they're about as optional as quitting smoking before trying to climb a high mountain (translation: you don't have to, but you're a total idiot if you don't), but technically, players don't have to appear. They know, however, that coaches and team executives are taking clear mental notes about who shows up and who doesn't, and it is expected that virtually all players show up.
Some players were not expected to appear Monday at Valley Ranch for the first day of the Cowboys' OTAs. Wide receiver Patrick Crayton, for example, has stopped working out with the team and has asked for a trade after the team drafted Dez Bryant in the first round to join big-bucks starters Miles Austin and Roy Williams as key targets in the Dallas passing game. The Cowboys, knowing Crayton has seen the proverbial writing on the wall, have no objection to his absence.
Fellow wideout Sam Hurd also has asked for a new address after realizing that he likely will be relegated once more to the role of special teams ace behind Austin, Williams, Bryant and 2009 rookie Kevin Ogletree, and maybe more. But Hurd was on the field with his teammates Monday.
There were two players on the field, however, who most felt would not be in attendance: wide receiver Miles Austin and strong safety Gerald Sensabaugh, neither of whom has signed his contract tender from the team.
Both are expected to sign long-term deals with the team, and are participating in the OTA after signing an injury waiver that protects them with a spot on the injured reserve list — meaning they will be paid — in the event of injury.
Austin declined to talk Monday, saying only, "sorry — I'm just here to work." But Sensabaugh said his flirtation with the idea of not showing up this week was short-lived.
"Yeah, I thought about it," he said. "But at the end of the day, what would that accomplish? I'm confident the deal will get done, and if it does, I need to be as ready as possible and as comfortable with my teammates as possible."
Sensabaugh lined up as the first-team strong safety, just as he did from the day he arrived last year from the Jacksonville Jaguars as a free agent. But now he has a new running mate at the back of the Dallas defense after the Cowboys cut free safety Ken Hamlin over the offseason. The free safety spot is up for grabs among draft pick Akwasi Owusu-Ansah, second-year veteran Mike Hamlin and fourth-year veteran Alan Ball, who got the snaps with the first-team defense Monday.
"A.B. (Alan Ball) is doing a great job," Sensabaugh said. "He knows the defense, and he runs really well. He can make a lot of plays because of his speed."
Sensabaugh said repeatedly that he is confident his contract situation will be resolved — hopefully soon.
"My agent is talking with the team, so I try to stay out of all that," he said. "I'm not worried about it. I want to come back to the Cowboys, and I'm confident that is what will happen."
Sensabaugh declined to express surprise that the negotiations have taken as long as they have, citing the uncertainty of the collective bargaining agreement between the league and its players.
"I don't know, maybe it's hard to structure deals with the CBA the way it is, with the uncapped year (in 2010)," he said. "Again, I can't really worry about all of that. My job is to be the best player I can be, and to do that, I have to be here, working with my teammates."
Sensabaugh said that it was important for him to be on the field Monday — not just to work on his own game, but because he has no interest in playing anywhere else.
"For me, personally … yes, it is important for me to be here, fine-tuning some things in my game," he said. "I wouldn't be doing justice to my team or to myself if I'm not here for OTAs.
"The contract — that's … whatever. It will take care of itself. If not, I guess I'll go someplace else. But I love Dallas, and I want to be here."
Surprise! Austin, Sensabaugh at OTAs
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