Dallas Cowboys

Minicamp notes: Cobb the real deal; when to expect D-Law back; Garrett’s parting words

Dallas Cowboys: Jason Garrett talks Day 1 of minicamp

Dallas Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett discusses several topics ahead of the first day of minicamp at The Star in Frisco.
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Dallas Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett discusses several topics ahead of the first day of minicamp at The Star in Frisco.

The Cowboys finished a strong off-season program Thursday with the final day of minicamp.

They’re not off until they depart for training camp on July 25 and conduct their first practice in Oxnard, Calif. on July 27.

Head coach Jason Garrett’s message to the team: Take care of your bodies so you can be the best you can at camp.

After what he has seen throughout the off-season, he’s confident the players will conduct themselves accordingly.

“I think we’ve had a really good off-season,” Garrett said. “So many of our players were here well before the off-season program started, working out, and their participation and the effort level really throughout the off-season program has been outstanding. I think we’ve laid a really good foundation for our team and [have] given ourselves a chance, really just because of the approach our players have taken, great leadership among guys who have been around here and really understand how we do things. They really set the pace and set the tone for everybody. Let’s finish strong today.

“Players will kind of take it a little bit easy next week then get back to some rigorous training leading up to training camp. Just take care of yourself and make sure you’re doing everything you can to put yourself in the best position to be your best when we start up in camp in Oxnard.”

Quarterback Dak Prescott will be busy with several of his kids camps, including in his hometown of Haughton, La., Starkville, Miss. and locally at Justin Northwest High School. He said he will take some time off but he will not lose any of his edge after a stellar off-season.

“I am not worried about losing the edge,” Prescott said. “I will take a little time off. During that time I will still be taking care of my body, doing the things I need to do. When you feel as I do physically and mentally, you are hungry to keep that going. And you are hungry to get better. The time off will be taken, but trust me I will stay with it.”

Thoughts and observations from the final day of minicamp:

* Prescott says he plans on having a bonding trip with the receivers as he did last year in hopes of gaining chemistry and unity.

“Hopefully, we are going to take a couple of weeks off, just to get away from the game itself,” Prescott said. “Then after that, I hope they are training and doing what they need to do to get their bodys right. We’ve got to schedule for a time right in the middle of this break that I want to get back together. They should have been training. I should have been trying. And then we could fine-tune some things before we take time off to be by ourselves before we come to training camp.”

* Prescott explained his little skirmish with safety Jeff Heath on Wednesday as not allowing himself to be bullied in a highly competitive environment.

“It’s been competitive all camp long. All minicamp, all OTAs going back to that. When you are playing the same guys over and over again and you are getting better. They have good days. We have good days. They are getting the best of each other. Tensions raise up. He is one of my best friends. That was a heat of the moment deal. Just showing that I am not going to take anything. I know you can’t touch me and all of that. But don’t just try to bully me. But Heath is great. We have talked on it. We have laughed on it. That was just heat of the moment, being competitive. I wouldn’t want anything less.”

* Look for defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence and cornerback Byron Jones to open training camp on the physically unable to perform list following off-season surgeries. That was expected as both were targeted to be ready for the start of the season. Garrett wanted it clear that both were on schedule in their rehab. Garrett said many of the other injured and recovering players who were held out of minicamp and OTAs should be ready for the start of training camp, including Leighton Vander Esch, Kavon Frazier, Antwaun Woods, Taco Charlton, Tyrone Crawford, Noah Brown, Jameil Showers, Travis Frederick, La’el Collins, Tavon Austin and Allen Hurns.

* Garrett and a group of players are departing Friday for his Starfish Charities’ 17th Annual Football Camp and Leadership Forum on Saturday. It will take place at Garrett’s alma mater, Princeton University.

It’s a one-day, free, non-contact football camp for student-athletes from schools in New Jersey and New York. They will be coached by Garrett, current and former NFL players and coaches, as well as college and area high school coaches. Among the Cowboys players helping out will be tight end Jason Witten, cornerbacks Chido Awuzie, Jourdan Lewis and Donovan Olumba and receiver Noah Brown. The purpose of the day is to inspire the participants to excel and to focus on having college as part of their future plans.

The guest speaker at the camp will be retired General William McRaven, who last served as the ninth commander of the United States Special Operations Command from August 8, 2011, to August 28, 2014 and oversaw the operation to capture and kill Osama Bin Laden. From 2015 to 2018, he was the chancellor of the University of Texas System.

* The play of the day on Thursday was a pass from Prescott to Amari Cooper in double coverage. Cooper rose up and high-pointed the ball over Xavier Woods and C.J. Goodwin. It was just a beautiful catch that reminded you of Dez Bryant. Cooper is known for his smooth route running and juking himself open, but he showed he can go up and get it too.

“I think he did it today,” Prescott said. “Went across the middle and jumped up and made a great catch on some people, so I mean when you’re able to create the space he does, you just don’t have to do that and show that part of the game as much. I like when he creates space, but as long as he’s going up and making those plays, I have all the confidence in him that he’ll make them.”

* There is no question that free agent receiver Randall Cobb is going to be a huge addition to the offense. He and Prescott have formed a fast connection. He has frequently found him in the middle of the field in practice for big plays. The Cowboys showcased his running game in the red zone Thursday calling a reverse to him from Ezekiel Elliott for a big gain.

“That’s a very fortunate add there,” Prescott said. “He’s been great, honestly. An ex-quarterback, knows the game up and down, knows every aspect of it; knows when he’s in the read what progression he is, and when you have a guy like that, he’s going to get open, he knows how to get open. He’s had a lot of success in this league already so just to have him be a part of this corps, a part of this team and this offense means a lot.

“We’ve had a fast connection. You take something, approach something, go out there and he does it right the first time. When you have a guy like that, it allows you to cut the ball loose, it allows you to anticipate. It allows you to trust he’s going to be in the right spot and he hasn’t failed in doing that. The moment he does and even sometimes he does it’s always a consistent feedback and we’re going to talk about it, what we could’ve done, what we should’ve done and, like I said, it serves you well.”

* Cornerback Donovan Olumba continued his strong minicamp and almost snagged a third interception in as many days when he dropped a sure-pick from quarterback Mike White. He finished last season as the fifth cornerback behind Jones, Awuzie, Brown and Lewis. But he is certainly the most improved. He has the size and length that secondary coach Kris Richard likes.

“Just a guy, the more he plays the better he gets,” Garrett said. “I think physically he’s gotten stronger. That’s helped him. He was kind of a real thin guy when he first came in here. There was a lot of potential there but sometimes his play strength wasn’t what it needed to be. He’s worked very hard in the weight room to get stronger. I think you’re seeing that in his play. He’s just one of those guys, he’s got a little savviness about him. Sees the ball a lot, is around the ball a lot, can make plays on the ball. Made a number of plays here in the OTAs and minicamp and he’s really showed up well the last week or so.”

* Backup quarterback Cooper Rush had his second straight strong day to finish minicamp after a horrible, three-interception performance on Tuesday. Rush opened practice with a long pass to rookie receiver Jon’vea Johnson. He then found tight end Blake Jarwin for a touchdown. He followed with another strong drive that ended with a touchdown pass to Lance Lenoir. Rush wasn’t done. He threw a touchdown to Witten in red zone drills and finished practice with a two-minute drive that included a deep pass to Lenoir with safety George Iloka the closest man in coverage and ended with a touchdown pass to Cedrick Wilson.

* Rookie free-agent Jon’vea Johnson continues to show up and make plays that has given him opportunities with the first and second units ahead of more experienced receivers. Receivers coach Sanjay Lal highlighted him the first week of OTAs and Garrett said he just continues to impress. The Cowboys are practicing without Allen Hurns, Tavon Austin and Brown. But Johnson has made an impression on the coaches. He has a real chance to make the team if he continues to show up and make plays in training camp. He is a blazer who can take the top off the defense.

* Witten has also been able to pick up where he left off with Prescott following his one-year of retirement. He is the starting tight end and will be a safety valve for Prescott in the two-minute drill and in the red zone. Witten has lost none of the fire and competitiveness at age 37. He caught a touchdown in red zone on a perfect pass from Prescott. But it was ruled incomplete by the practice officials, who said he didn’t get both feet in bounds. Witten lit into a tizzy. But he didn’t fuss at the officials, he targeted the Cowboys staffers who “hired the officials,” he said. That’s getting smarter with age.

“It’s pretty natural,” Prescott said of his returned chemistry with Witten. “There are times I’d say throughout training camp I went somewhere else with the ball and I looked and boom there was Witt that if that place wouldn’t have been open and I wouldn’t have gone there. I know I had that safety net there so it serves you well. Getting down there in the red zone, having that option with a guy you know is going to get open in man-to-man coverage, knows how to body a guy, knows how to create space, it feels great to have him back.”

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Clarence E. Hill Jr. has covered the Dallas Cowboys as a beat writer/columnist for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram since 1997. That includes just two playoff wins, six coaches and countless controversies from the demise of the dynasty teams of the 1990s through the rollercoaster years of the Tony Romo era until Jason Garrett’s process Cowboys.