Cowboys alter conditioning, practice plans

OXNARD, Calif. -- Injuries have played a big part in why the Dallas Cowboys have missed the playoffs the last two seasons, so coach Jason Garrett is doing what he can to mitigate the chances of more players getting hurt unnecessarily.

Garrett canceled the normal conditioning test the players typically run the day before practices began, calling it a “recipe for disaster,” but the bulk of the players ran the test on Monday before flying to California on Tuesday. Nearly a dozen players who were not in attendance at Valley Ranch ran it on Wednesday.

“The way that it’s (been) set up, the bigger concern is getting off the plane and then coming here on Wednesday and doing a conditioning test, and then within 24 hours you’re on the practice field for a walkthrough and then a competitive practice,” Garrett said.

It is not the only change Garrett will make. The Cowboys will not do 11-on-11 drills in the first two days of training camp with Garrett preferring to wait until Saturday, when the players can wear pads for the first time. The only time the offense will line up against the defense will be during the morning walkthroughs.

“In college football often times they force you to start slowly with different kinds of rules they’ve had through the years and with different teams I’ve been on, Day 1 has had different levels of intensity,” Garrett said. “The thing I made perfectly clear to our players is it’s going to be intense practice. They’re going to be stressed. There is going to be pressure on them. We’re simply not going to be going against each other and as much as anything else to get their football legs and their football feet underneath them and to get ready to play football in a competitive environment.”

Garrett cut short a rookie minicamp practice after several players got hurt, and he limited some of the work during the organized team activities and minicamp, though it did not prevent Sean Lee from suffering a season-ending knee injury.

The Cowboys have also incorporated a new pre-practice stretching routine and have added numerous apparatuses, including ballet bars, to help players get loose.

“The conditioning test is an age-old issue in the NFL,” Garrett said. “I think I’ve been involved on 25 or 26 different teams in the NFL as a player or as a coach, and I’ve done conditioning tests my whole life and been a part of teams that have done them, whether it’s a 12-minute run or mile run or 16 110s or some version of 40s or 50s or 60s like we’ve done around here in recent years.

"And the way they’re typically set up is you might be on a plane, you might have a long drive, and you come to training camp on Day 1 and you do this conditioning test. That’s what the rules mandate, that’s what everybody does, and the next day you’re on a practice field getting yourself involved in football movements, very different than what that conditioning test was. We’ve always been very mindful of trying to make the conditioning test as close to playing football as possible, but having said that, it’s still different.”