Cowboys will break rookies in slowly, with no offense vs. defense

FRISCO, Texas -- For the first time, the Dallas Cowboys will get to see their nine draft picks, 14 undrafted free agents and a handful of other tryout invitees on a practice field when the rookie minicamp begins Friday.

What they won’t see, however, is a lot of actual football. At least not any offense-versus-defense work.

It might seem counterintuitive, but coach Jason Garrett sees a benefit to slowly breaking the rookies into what the Cowboys do.

Since the college season ended, many of the players have been training to get drafted, not actually training to play football. A number of the draft picks spent weeks on the road visiting team after team, unable to get in quality workouts, and therefore might not be in the best shape.

So what would happen if the Cowboys dropped these players into a full-fledged practice? A lot of injuries, intravenous fluids, added soreness and not a lot of learning.

Garrett conducted a team meeting Thursday night, laying out the expectations. Position-group meetings were scheduled to start early Friday morning.

For 90 minutes in the afternoon, players will be on the practice field, followed by more meetings.

“We’ve done it a lot of different ways, and different years there’s been different reasons to do it different ways,” Garrett said. “In the last couple of years we’ve dialed it back and made it more individual-oriented, trying to get their feet underneath them a little bit. I do think there’s some value to playing football, but we feel like there’s enough opportunity once we get going in the [organized team activities] to get them going in that regard where we’re working against people.

“There’s a lot of football that’s going to happen for them in a short period of time.”

Second-round pick Chidobe Awuzie is expected to miss Friday’s practice so he can attend his graduation ceremony at Colorado, but he should return for Saturday activities. Garrett said he expects all of the rookies to be healthy enough to take part in the sessions.

The rookies, drafted and undrafted, will be joined by 10 veterans: linebacker Jaylon Smith, offensive lineman Clay DeBord, tight end Rico Gathers, wide receiver Andy Jones, safety Jameill Showers, defensive end Lenny Jones, punter Sam Irwin-Hill, defensive back Duke Thomas, long-snapper/defensive end Zach Wood and wide receiver Uzoma Nwachukwu. Smith, the 2016 second-round pick who missed last season with a knee injury, will take part in walk-throughs and meetings but not practice.

“We’re going to keep the defensive guys by themselves and the offensive guys by themselves, so they’ll all kind of working in their own worlds by position and then by unit,” Garrett said. “It’s a similar philosophy that we’ve done the first couple of days of training camp with our guys. Guys haven’t played football in a little while. We feel like that’s probably the most beneficial way to go about it, so it’s a lot of teaching, a lot of individual work and a lot of emphasis on the fundamentals.”