July 25, 2011

Following long layoff, Cowboys ready to work

Signed or not, the Cowboys prepare to return to the field.

Stephen Bowen, one of the Dallas Cowboys' unsigned free agents, knows where he would feel comfortable playing this season.

Right next to linebacker DeMarcus Ware.

That's one of the reasons the defensive end would prefer to re-sign with the Cowboys, who are free to begin negotiating with him and other free agents at 10 a.m. today as team facilities open across the NFL.

"DeMarcus Ware and I have been working every weekend, just me and him, just talking about getting on the field, rushing the passer, about the things we can do this year to disrupt people, especially on third down -- we would be on the same side," Bowen said.

No matter where he ends up, Bowen will be happy simply to get back on the field. And he won't be alone in that regard.

"This feels good. I'm just ready to get started," said right tackle Tyron Smith, the Cowboys' No. 1 draft pick. "I'm going to push myself every day."

Punter Mat McBriar laughed in anticipation of a drive from California to Texas to report to practice.

"I'm packing right now. I better get going," he said.

The Cowboys and other NFL players received a long break, more than 130 days. The only football activity they had was in informal workouts.

It was a mental break, but McBriar said it wasn't stress-free.

"Having it hanging over our heads, not knowing exactly what was going to happen, didn't always make for the greatest mindset," he said.

"I think there was some constant thinking that the season may not get off to its regular start or you may have missed games. All in all, it wasn't that refreshing, in a sense."

Bowen, if he returns to the Cowboys, said he wouldn't be concerned about having to learn new defensive coordinator Rob Ryan's scheme in a hurry.

"In the old system, we would have been learning some of the defense in the OTAs," he said. "But by the time we would have come to camp, we would have started all over again like we didn't know it. We would have started from the beginning. It will probably be the same process. I don't think it will be a problem for the guys to pick it up."

Tight end Martellus Bennett predicted training camp will be more about whole-team instruction than individual.

"Usually you have OTAs, teaching sessions, minicamps -- all that stuff -- to work on the skill of each player," he said. "Now it's like, 'Hey, we've got to get our team, everybody on the same page.' Everything is about timing with our offense.... I think it's going to be a different focus at this camp than it has been in the past."

Tight end Jason Witten said the Cowboys benefited from their organized workouts because it made them responsible for themselves.

"I don't know that it's going to allow you to win more games or not, but it was a good experience for us to do that," he said. "I think we're going to be better because of that. When you start delegating responsibilities and you're handling practice and you don't have somebody doing it for you, there's a lot that goes into it.

"It was much more than a walkthrough for us. We worked in an environment where we felt like we were getting better. You can't make up what a real practice is. You can't create that environment when you're without the coaches, without the facility, without the support staff. But I think in a lot of other areas, we got better."

Carlos Mendez, 817-390-7407

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