IRVING, Texas -- The NFL’s offseason rules for contact is black and white but operates in a world of gray.
The Dallas Cowboys opened Phase 3 of the offseason program on Tuesday with their first of 10 organized team activities. The rules are clear: no pads, no live contact.
But when injuries like those suffered by Sean Lee happen, then the offseason rules go under the microscope even more. Lee was hurt in 11-on-11 drills. He was not wearing pads. He was not wearing shells. He was in a helmet.
As he was attempting to defend a screen pass it looked like he was starting to slip as rookie guard Zack Martin was attempting to make a block. Lee stayed on the ground and needed help to the locker room with a left knee injury.
Saying there can’t be contact is like saying basketball isn’t a contact sport. There has to be contact.
“We talk a lot about how to practice and understand that we’re going to be in competitive situations, but the guy across from you is your teammate,” coach Jason Garrett said. “We understand that we have helmets and jerseys on, and we really emphasize players staying off the ground and how you compete against each other: really get some productive work done early in the down, and then once it gets into a skirmish or competitive situation like it would be in a normal play, you kind of back off of that. So you try to be as productive as you can in the environment that you’re in and make it competitive, but also understand who you’re competing against.”
Martin did nothing wrong. He is a rookie in his first practice.
Garrett was asked if it is harder for rookies to adjust to the non-contact contact parts of practice.
“You’re always teaching them,” Garrett said. “You’re always trying to teach them. That started with the rookies during rookie minicamp about what we want: what we want from a walk-through tempo, what we want when we’re going with each other in 11-on-11. Often times, you have to keep preaching, ‘Stay off the ground, stay off the ground.’ That’s a really important thing. Injuries happen when guys hit the ground. We have to understand who we’re going against, how we’re going against them and making sure guys stay up.”