IRVING, Texas -- At 11 a.m. local time Friday, the Dallas Cowboys began their three-day mandatory minicamp at Valley Ranch. The camp marked the return of linebacker Keith Brooking from knee surgery and it looks like wide receiver Dez Bryant has recovered from a nagging hamstring injury. Oh, and budding MMA superstar Jay Ratliff has returned to the fold this week. Here are my observations from today's session:
I had a good visit with Bryant, who said he was "100 percent" after missing this morning's session with a sore hamstring. He's participating in Friday afternoon's practice and is expected to be on the field the next two days. Bryant was more interested in talking about the potential breakup of the Big 12 Conference, but he took a little time to discuss football. He's had a variety of health issues since last playing at Oklahoma State. He dealt with hamstring issues leading up to the draft and now he's had a sore hip, twisted ankle and a stomach virus that cost him an OTA session. Is this a pattern? Well, Bryant does not think so.
"I just feel like it’s all part of football,” said Bryant. “I’m going to get my injuries taken care of and get back and join my teammates. I’m just ready to get back to practice."
Brooking had a huge smile on his face as he walked around the locker room following Friday's morning session. Brooking had surgery on his left knee six weeks ago to remove some floating cartilage and the Cowboys held him out of OTAs to be safe. But tight end Jason Witten told me that players have been teasing Brooking that he scheduled his surgery to coincide with OTAs. For now, it looks like Brooking will only participate in one practice per day.
"My knee felt better than it’s felt in a really long time, so that’s really positive,” Brooking said. “The one thing I was concerned about was just explosiveness, having my legs underneath me, because I haven’t done the football, metabolic stuff in so long. But my legs felt great. I felt strong, I felt quick. I was very pleased with the day."
Witten was anxious for Bryant to return to practice. The normally mild-mannered Witten had some pointed words for the rookie: "He needs go get back in this minicamp." Witten added that Bryant needs time to develop chemistry with quarterback Tony Romo. "You can't do that when you're not practicing," Witten said.
I asked Witten about the fact that Redskins tight end Chris Cooley and Eagles tight end Brent Celek have told me that they watch him on film to pick up pointers. "I guess that tells you I'm the old head in the group," joked Witten. "But, no, I'm flattered by that. We take pride in what we do and I think it promotes competition among us and brings out the best in you." On another topic, Witten said that Martellus Bennett is making progress after a disappointing '09 season: "He's got the right mindset," said Witten of Bennett. "You don't want to get labeled as a flash player."
It looks like Mat McBriar has replaced Romo as the Cowboys' holder. And I'm sure Romo's broken up about this development. McBriar told reporters that he's really enjoyed working with kicker David Buehler and he once again took some responsibility for what happened to Nick Folk. I'm not sure he needs to do that, but it's classy nonetheless.