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Cowboys kick off OTAs at Valley Ranch

IRVING, Texas -- The Dallas Cowboys kick off three weeks of organized team activities Tuesday at Valley Ranch and coach Jason Garrett wants the players thinking of the regular season as they practice.

“Everyone's excited to get started and do football, but you have to practice smart,” Garrett said. “One of the things we talk to our players about all the time is, given the new collective bargaining agreement, you don't have that many full-padded practices. The teams that learn how to practice in helmets and jerseys really are the teams that are the best teams in this league because this is how we practice many more times than not. So we have to do a great job teaching tempo and convincing our players about the type of tempo we want to practice with. There's a sense of urgency. There's a pace for these types of events."

In Phase Three of the offseason, the offense and defense get to work against each other for the first time. Phase One was about strength and conditioning. Phase Two dealt with the individual units without 11-on-11 or 7-on-7 drills.

The Cowboys have nine OTA practices as well as a mandatory minicamp from June 16-18 before their offseason work ends.

The tempo of the offseason changes with the OTAs.

“The coaches are much more focused on technique and getting things done to make sure everybody's on their P's and Q's,” safety Barry Church said. “I feel like we are as a defense and I know the offense is going to be ready, so I'm excited about it.”

The Cowboys will have to incorporate new faces into their program, including Greg Hardy and Darren McFadden. They will welcome back Sean Lee, who missed 2014 with a torn anterior cruciate ligament suffered in OTAs last spring. They also will get the first chance to see top rookies Byron Jones, Randy Gregory and La’el Collins work with the veterans.

Garrett’s message since April 20 has been to forget the success of 2014.

“This is the start of it,” tight end Jason Witten said. “We’ve had a good offseason of workouts so far, but there’s nothing like going to the field and taking those practice reps and getting better. I think that’s the best thing we did last year. We eliminated all the noise and worked our tails off.”