IRVING — During the Dallas Cowboys' organized team activities, players have to walk a fine line between being aggressive... and being careful.
"You hear the coaches, 'Stay off the ground! Stay off the ground!'" said cornerback Morris Claiborne. "That's kind of hard when you have two guys going after a ball, two guys competing."
One of the most important parts of football, being physical, is prohibited during off-season workouts. The reason is obvious — to prevent injuries — but it's not foolproof.
Sean Lee's injury on May 27 demonstrated that.
But ignoring the brutal part of the game lets players work harder on the technical side of it.
"It's practicing your hat, your hands, your eyes, your spacing, things like that," said center Travis Frederick. "It's all those things that sometimes get lost when you're trying to be super-physical, but when you focus on them during times like these... that's what makes you a better player."
"You gotta learn to practice like a professional," said Scott Linehan, the Cowboys' passing game coordinator. "You're not going to have that contact like they do a little more in college and high school."
The lack of physical play in these workouts limits what young players can do to prove themselves. It's not like the movie "Rudy," where guys can go full-throttle in practice to impress the coaches. The players have to find other ways to do that.
"I wouldn't say it's hard; you just gotta focus on the little things: Technique, alignment and assignment," said Ken Bishop, a nose tackle the Cowboys picked in the 7th round of the draft. "But it does make it a little harder not being able to contact like I want to."
"Work hard in every drill," said Brian Clarke, an undrafted rookie free agent who is trying to make the team as an offensive guard. "Show them that you're physically able to do it, and work your butt off from whistle to whistle. So that's what I plan to do."
"It's my Day One speech to my players: It really doesn't matter where you come from," said head coach Jason Garrett. "If you're a first-round pick or we signed you 15 minutes ago, we're going to give you an opportunity to show what you can do, and if you take advantage of that, we're going to give you more opportunities."