Cowboys TE coach offers up off-beat drills

OXNARD, Calif. -- At one point Mike Pope made a list of all the drills he has had his tight ends do over 32 years in the NFL, and it totaled 478.

"I can't remember all of them because I'm getting a little bit older," said the 72-year-old Pope, "but they're just common sense more than anything else."

Like throwing ice water at shirtless tight ends, wearing a helmet? Like having the tight ends wearing swim goggles to cut down on their peripheral vision? Like having tight ends attempt to catch passes with a bag over their helmets? Like having tight ends catch a pass, draped over another tight end while a third tight end is holding down his feet? Like having the tight ends do a duck walk with a medicine ball? Like having the tight ends toss a ball in the air, turn and catch a pass from Pope and then catch the ball they tossed in the air?

Who thinks of this stuff? Pope does. He said he has no interests outside of football.

"No, I don't take credit for them," said Pope, who joined the Cowboys' staff in the offseason. "You see something in the game and say, 'How can I make a drill out of that?' A lot of them are things like end zone drills and you just see something happen and a player has to do something out of the extraordinary to make a catch, make a play. How does he do it? He's off balance, he's on one foot somebody has got him by the shirt. He's trying to run and he can't run. You just see those in the game and then you just come out here and put them together. It's not that hard."

James Hanna has figured out the "why" behind the drills, so he has not responded with, "We are doing, what?"

"He wants us to think about coming from the ground, that's why we do the duck walk stuff, like raising up as opposed to reaching out," Hanna said. "That's how you get in bad position."

The receiving drills are all about concentration. Most of the catches by tight ends are contested. They have to battle a linebacker or safety in tight coverage.

"There's someone always knocking us around, particularly when you get the credentials that a Jason Witten has," Pope said. "You think they're just going let him run down and catch the ball? I don't think so. We want to get them on our schedule if they do."

He admits the ice-water drill is more about the fun he gets from dousing his players.

"But we put that camera up real close and one of the things I really concentrate on teaching and getting them to understand -- because they don't really believe it -- that when the ball comes, when something really abnormal happens they flinch," Pope said. "They temporarily close their eyes. It's an instinct. It's uncontrollable. So hitting them with the ice water, they all flinch. I told them all, I said, 'If I bet you your car, you'd all be walking,' because that ice water hits them and it's such a shock to their body. Any of those things that you can do to try to distract them -- so anything you can do -- is a decent drill."

He does not tell the tight end what's coming, but by now they know it will be something strange. Pope said there have never been any complaints in his career, from Pro Bowlers like Mark Bavaro, Ben Coates, Jeremy Shockey and Stephen Alexander to players like Martellus Bennett, whom he coached with the Giants in 2012, to his current crew.

"They look at me like I'm Hannibal Lecter or something like that," Pope said. "But now, they get the gist of it." Training camp is young. Pope has plenty more left in his repertoire. "It's a lot of stuff I've never done before, but I've reflected a little bit on it and it seems like pretty practical stuff," Hanna said. "So that's good."