The Dallas Cowboys have made plenty of headlines in the days leading into training camp. Most of them haven’t been for the right reasons.
Ezekiel Elliott allegedly got into an altercation at a bar; Damien Wilson is facing two second-degree felony charges for aggravated assault with a deadly weapon; rookie Jourdan Lewis is going to trial Monday on a domestic violence charge; Terrance Williams had a foot race in the early morning hours outside of a strip club; Lucky Whitehead said his dog had been stolen for ransom; and Dez Bryant was tardy and David Irving absent for Friday’s training camp check in.
None of those incidents, though, dampened the excitement of training camp when the Cowboys’ chartered flight landed Saturday afternoon at Point Mugu Naval Air Station.
“We have to understand when incidents come up you have to be accountable to them,” tight end Jason Witten said. “You have to learn from it and then you have to move forward. Our team understands that.
“We’ll stay together and work through it. They’re being addressed. They have been addressed and we’ll continue to work through it. I don’t think the focus or the approach going into training camp that there’s been anything lost from that standpoint. I think guys understand what we have to do. If anything, there’s an excitement to go start that.”
Witten, who is going into his 15th year and is widely regarded as the leader of the team, blamed part of the off-field issues on himself.
“As a leader of the team and the other leaders, we’ve just got to do a better job,” Witten said. “We’ve got great guys and the core is really strong with this football team. Everybody inside that building – the management to coach [Jason] Garrett and his staff and the players – have worked really hard to get the right type of guys together. I believe that. We have to work through situations, but certainly we have to be better there.
“We have to understand our platform and what we have to do is eliminate those distractions so that we can go out and play football. All of those guys are a huge part of our team. They’re good football players. They’re good people and good friends, brothers of mine. I’ve had a lot of success and adversity with them, so they’ll work through it. But certainly the standards stay really high. We have to understand that and we have to embrace it and we have to handle it.”
On the field, the standard couldn’t be any higher for the Cowboys. Las Vegas has pegged them as favorites to win the NFC and go to the Super Bowl for the first time since the 1995 season.
It’s a drastic difference from a year ago when the Cowboys were coming off a dreadful 4-12 season.
This year’s team is expected to contend for a championship with Dak Prescott entering Year 2 after arguably the greatest rookie season by a quarterback in league history. Plus Elliott returns after leading the league in rushing as a rookie and Bryant is healthy and ready to return to his old form.
But the Cowboys aren’t buying their own hype, even though Witten admitted there is a “buzz” surrounding the team.
“You have to start over in a lot of ways with your season and your plan,” Witten said. “There’s 31 other teams that have high expectations too right now, so I think there’s a wave of when it goes.
“[Outside] expectations change, but internally the goal stays the same. You have to start there. For me, and I think I speak on behalf of everybody on our team, we understand that those expectations really don’t mean anything. It’s internally how we go about it, so the standard is really high. We have to do a good job of understanding how we need to play.”
The Cowboys’ first practice is set for Monday.
▪ Four players didn’t fly on the team charter Saturday, including Darren McFadden, Orlando Scandrick, David Irving and Jourdan Lewis. All but Lewis are expected to join the team by 2 p.m. on Sunday when they are required to report. Lewis’ trial is set for Monday and Tuesday in Michigan, and the hope is he will join the team by Wednesday.
▪ The Cowboys placed defensive tackle Richard Ash on the physically unable to perform list to start camp.
▪ Linebacker Justin Durant, who signed on Thursday, will begin camp on the non-football injury list.