It was the first practice of the first day of the first minicamp.
Jerseys and helmets. No pads.
So the Dallas Cowboys knew they were going to have to look hard to see what they wanted to see from their first-round pick, center Travis Frederick.
But they saw it.
The physical play, aggression and leadership they used to justify taking the Wisconsin lineman with the 31st pick of the first round — a steep price in some eyes — was there.
“I think we saw some of that this morning,” coach Jason Garrett said.
What did it look like?
Offensive line coach Bill Callahan beamed. He was happy to describe it.
“I thought it was evident in the last team drill,” he said. “There was more tempo, and he was in and out of the huddle a lot faster. He was more aggressive getting to the line, making the calls, and then hustling back and getting everybody re-huddled — just those simple mechanics that you take for granted sometimes. We’re trying to get them established on a Day 1 practice.”
That was all the Cowboys really wanted to see as they opened a three-day camp for rookies, selected veterans and tryout players.
And that was all Frederick asked of himself. He didn’t bother getting nervous or worrying about whether the Cowboys spent too high a pick on him, as critics have charged. He just tried to be himself and remember that he played four years at Wisconsin for a reason.
“For me, it’s just about going out and playing the way I played in college and playing the way that I know that I can play, and taking advantage of the tremendous coaching,” he said. “Coach Callahan’s a tremendous coach. I think he can make me a lot better player than I have been. If I can work as hard as I can and take advantage of his coaching, I can prove some people wrong.”
The Cowboys probably will be happy if Frederick simply proves worthy of a starting spot. Simply put, it is what Cowboys owner Jerry Jones is expecting.
“We want him to come in here and contribute immediately,” Jones said. “Jason [Garrett] says it right when he says there is competition. But certainly, there ought to be a spot for him on that offensive line. We think he has the combination of skill and mental to play immediately.”
Frederick worked almost entirely at center Friday, taking only a few snaps in individual drills at guard.
“Really, I studied as hard as I could to play center,” he said. “I knew I was going to take a lot of center reps. A ton of calls that go into that.”
Frederick said it was the first time he had worn a helmet since the Rose Bowl on New Year’s Day. Rust? Not really. But the action was fast.
“Especially at center,” he said. “You have to be able to direct everybody. The tempo, getting up to the ball and calling the cadence is all much faster, so you have to be able to recognize that stuff a little bit faster, and hopefully, be able to make all the calls for everybody else, as well.”
The Cowboys think Frederick is plenty smart enough to do that. It’s one of the reasons they ranked him 22nd on their draft board when the league consensus (not to mention his own agent) had him in the second round.
“That was a real positive note as I watched him in all the team drills today — how he ID’s the ‘Mike’ linebacker, he makes the point, he makes all the calls, he puts everybody on the same page,” Callahan said of Frederick’s football IQ. “So I’m impressed from that standpoint. Day 1, just to get out and start talking in front of all these new people and players in front of you, with all the coaches and pressure on you, I thought he did pretty good.”
That’s all the Cowboys wanted to see.