After two dismal preseason games and 18 days of practice at their River Ridge training complex, one thing is certain: The Dallas Cowboys are not ready for prime time.
The Cowboys began their final week of training camp practices Tuesday with questions that need to be answered before they break camp on Friday and call themselves ready for the regular-season opener against the New York Giants on Sept. 13.
Coach Jason Garrett is so disappointed with his team’s work in the preseason that he canceled a planned trip to the beach Tuesday, instead scheduling a normal practice.
The Cowboys are 0-2 in exhibition games, scoring just two touchdowns combined in losses to the San Diego Chargers and San Francisco 49ers.
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“Yeah, we’re still in training camp, so we’re going to practice,” a terse Garrett said. “There’s a heightened sense of urgency every day. Nothing to do with three days [remaining in camp], has everything to do with Tuesday.”
First and foremost is getting the team focused and pointed toward the regular season. And that starts with practice this week leading up to Saturday’s preseason game against the Minnesota Vikings at AT&T Stadium.
It is the dress rehearsal for the season with most of the regular starters set to play at least the first half.
Getting the starters on the field means several injured players will get some preseason action for the first time and taking the bubble wrap off some others who have been held out for precautionary reasons.
Before the loss of cornerback Orlando Scandrick to a possible season-ending knee injury in practice Tuesday, the good news was that the Cowboys had not suffered any serious injury setbacks.
Receiver Dez Bryant, offensive tackle Tyron Smith, linebacker Sean Lee and cornerback Morris Claiborne are among the players narrowing their focus for their first action of the preseason, which should help the Cowboys’ cohesiveness and continuity.
“It’s part of camp,” tight end Jason Witten said. “Guys go down. Guys get hurt. It’s good to get everybody practicing and finishing this thing strong.”
This final week will help the Cowboys get a clearer picture of the battle at running back between Darren McFadden and Joseph Randle. McFadden got the start in the 23-6 loss to the 49ers, rushing for 4 yards on three carries. Randle had seven carries for 30 yards.
The Cowboys improved their depth in the secondary during the off-season with the additions of rookie Byron Jones and free-agent cornerback Corey White. Now it will be tested because of the injury to Scandrick. Still, they feel good about Claiborne’s return and the availability of Brandon Carr, who suffered a fractured hand early in camp.
Winding down camp is definitely not a time to exhale for the Cowboys. It’s just means that the regular season is fast approaching.
And it should result in more focus and resolve.
After two disappointing preseason games, it’s a must, according to Witten.
“It’s big,” Witten said. “We had had a lot of good work, but it hasn’t carried over to games. We have to finish a strong week. Again, we have talked about it. It’s a new year. We are going to have to earn it. We have to go prove it.”
On the same page
The Cowboys are focusing on continuity, particularly on offense, as the season approaches. Continuity usually yields positive streaks. Here are some notable runs Dallas put together in 2014:
▪ 8-0 on the road
▪ Four consecutive games with 30-plus points
▪ Scored five or more touchdowns in four consecutive games
▪ Eight consecutive games with the offense scoring in the third and fourth quarters
▪ Four consecutive games with 400 or more net yards
▪ Four consecutive games holding the ball for 33 minutes or more