IRVING -- Dan Connor hasn't spent this much time in a book since he left college.
But he and the Dallas Cowboys playbook are well acquainted now.
"I put in a lot of off-season study time. It's some of the most studying I've done, probably, since my rookie year," the veteran linebacker said this week at Valley Ranch, where he joined rookies, injured players and a handful of other veterans for pre-training camp practices.
"And it's helped."
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Studying will help anybody. But health is nice, too, and that is one thing Connor -- signed to a free-agent contract after spending his first four years in the NFL in Carolina -- has that he didn't have in the spring.
He missed the organized team activities (OTAs) and veteran minicamp recovering from a shoulder injury.
He was cleared to practice this week, and was so ready to get going that he didn't mind the extra three days of work this week.
"I kind of like it," he said. "Early on, I was thinking it's tough, it kind of cuts into your last off days. But as it approached, I was getting excited, thinking, 'Oh, man -- I haven't been on the field in a while. I want to get out there. I want to get a little advantage.'"
He smiled as though he had a secret.
"I feel like I'm cheating. The vets are hanging out right now. I'm getting a head start," he said. "I don't mind it at all. It's a good time to make a step forward while everyone is kind of waiting for camp."
Connor can use every edge he can get. He will go against second-year linebacker Bruce Carter to play alongside Sean Lee as the Cowboys' two inside linebackers.
"It's an open competition. It's going to be great because we're all going to improve," he said. "We're all going to be on top of our game."
Carter missed the minicamp in June with a hamstring injury, but he is not part of the workouts this week. Neither is Lee, Connor's former teammate at Penn State.
So Connor got a chance to do a lot.
"It helped huge to be able to play a couple of positions and run the defense," Connor said of his extra studying. "I feel good. I feel right on pace. I don't feel behind at all, and I'm looking forward to every practice."
Connor, who played under more than one defensive system in Carolina and is coming to a 3-4 defense with the Cowboys, said he's got to keep studying.
"It's hard. Every time you change a system -- I've been through a couple -- it's a whole new set of terms, a whole new set of rules," he said. "I knew the more I studied, if I could really get it down, memorize it, feel comfortable with it, when I'm on the field, I'm not thinking, I'm playing. That's when I play my best. You can't be out there tentative. I really dedicated myself to studying. That helped."
It is helping more than Connor.
His presence this week is a lift for the rookies around him, particularly the undrafted players who are trying to get an idea about what to do in their first pro training camp.
"He doesn't have to be here. He doesn't have to talk to me," linebacker Adrian Hamilton said. "But he'll tell me, 'Calm down, this is what's going on.' I'm not out there really thinking a lot, just playing. It makes the game a lot easier."
Connor put on weight for his first year with the Cowboys. He said he gained 10 pounds and is up to 243 so he can handle the linemen who will be coming at him.
"It's been easy, man," he said. "I like eating."
Eating and studying. There will be plenty of time for both next week.
Carlos Mendez, 817-390-7407