By Dwain Price
Armed with a new head coach and plenty of new meaningful help on both sides of the ball, the Dallas Cowboys entered their scaled-down version of training camp standing virtually on top of the world.
But that world came crashing down last week during the Cowboys’ first day of wearing shoulder pads in practice when defensive tackle Gerald McCoy suffered a season-ending ruptured right quad tendon after his leg was accidentally stepped on during a drill. McCoy was one of the Cowboys’ huge offseason acquisitions, but they wound up releasing him after the unfortunate injury.
“I’m certainly disappointed, but first and foremost disappointed for Gerald,” Cowboys Chief Operating Officer Stephen Jones said. “I know he was fired up about being here, but also it’s disappointing for us.
“He was one of our major acquisitions during the offseason in free agency. But having said that, this will give Trysten Hill and (rookie DT Neville) Gallimore an opportunity to really step up now.”
Maybe so, but Trysten Hill and Neville Gallimore don’t bring to the table what McCoy brings to the table. The third overall pick of the 2010 NFL Draft by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, McCoy has been chosen first-team All-Pro three times and he also made the Pro Bowl six times.
Players of McCoy’s stature are irreplaceable. And the Cowboys know it.
Defensive tackle Tyrone Crawford said of McCoy’s injury: “Having a guy like that who you’re just getting to know and getting to make part of the family, it’s always sad to see.”
McCoy’s departure puts even more pressure on defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence, who collected just five sacks last year after picking up a total of 25 during the previous two seasons.
“It’s just really about honing in my techniques, protecting myself and really getting my hands and my feet back under me,” Lawrence said. “You can’t dwell on what done happened in the past. It’s all about securing today and the future.”
Because of the coronavirus and the fact that his wife, Sasha, is due to give birth in October, Lawrence had strongly considered opting out of playing this season. That would have administered another blow to the Cowboys. However, Sasha put that to rest.
Lawrence said: “She basically told me there’s no way possible that I can miss this season.”
It’s a season where the Cowboys have high aspirations of – at the very least – playing in their first Super Bowl since the one they won following the 1995 season.
“We want to win, that’s the goal,” new safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix said. “We want to win a championship, and that’s why we’re here.
“To have veteran guys on the defensive side of the ball who have played in big games and been a part of a winning culture is awesome to have this many vets here and ready to win a championship.”
Mike McCarthy, who replaced Jason Garrett over the offseason as the Cowboys’ new head coach, is thrilled at what he saw when his new team hit the practice field for the first time last Friday.
“Based off the day that they came out of the first practice, we were cranking,” McCarthy said. “We were cranking definitely at the level that I’m looking for.”
Part of that “cranking” came from CeeDee Lamb, the rookie wide receiver from Oklahoma who has wowed his coaches and teammates with his exceptional performances thus far in practice. Lamb has the skill set to play either in the slot position, or at either one of the two wide receiver spots.
And he is electrifying, to say the least.
“He’s the same guy we’ve been watching on TV for the past two-to-three years,” Clinton-Dix said. “He’s very explosive, very fast and I can’t wait to see what he has in store being around so many veteran wide receivers.”
Indeed, lining up alongside Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup, defenses are going to be in an extremely tough predicament when it comes to trying to contain all three Cowboys’ receivers.
“CeeDee looks very natural out there,” McCarthy said. “He’s picked it up seamlessly.”
Lamb was rated as the top receiver in college football last season when he had 62 receptions for 1,327 yards and 14 touchdowns while averaging 21.4 yards per catch. He is very elusive, and the Cowboys may also use him on punt returns.
“Playing in the NFL, the speed of the game is definitely different from college,” guard Joe Looney said. “But you look at CeeDee, the kid has so much talent.
“I’m just excited to watch him learn and watch him grow.”
The Cowboys also are excited about watching tight end Blake Jarwin grow. Undrafted out of Oklahoma State in 2017, Jarwin replaces veteran tight end Jason Witten, who left the Cowboys after 16 seasons to go play for the Las Vegas Raiders.
“Not having Witten in the room is definitely a big change for me,” Jarwin said. “I’ve learned so much from the guy in the last few years.
“I know that there’s been kind of rumors that maybe he wasn’t the best teammate to the tight ends, but I couldn’t disagree more.”
There’s also been rumors that with all the weapons at McCarthy’s disposal, the Cowboys are unquestionably playoff-bound – and maybe even Super Bowl-bound — this season. There’s certainly been some newfound energy floating around the team’s headquarters at The Star in Frisco.
“It’s been fun to kind of have a fresh start and kind of learn some new techniques,” guard Zack Martin said. “The tempo of practice has been picked up a ton and I think that’s going to pay dividends for us down the road.”