Day one of Dallas Cowboys rookie minicamp was Friday, which means what head coach Jason Garrett called a “constant evaluation” has officially begun.
“First impressions matter. You certainly make those initial impressions, but you make a lot of other impressions beyond that as well,” Garrett said. “We’re watching you 24 hours a day, watching everything you do, how you handle every situation, and we’re making our evaluation.”
An area that has seen high turnover in the past year, defensive line, will get a lot of evaluation in the months before the final roster is set in stone. Dallas has a slew of defensive linemen on its roster, including seven in rookie camp this weekend.
“It’s exciting. It’s going to breed a lot of competition,” said Ben Gardner, a seventh-round selection in this year’s draft.
Competition and “strength in numbers” at the defensive line position was an emphasis in the draft, that included the additions of Demarcus Lawrence, Gardner, and Ken Bishop to accompany new defensive tackle signee Henry Melton. The Cowboys also signed former first round pick Amobi Okoye Friday to add to the mix.
“That’s what you need to be a great defensive line. The best defensive lines are the ones that play the hardest and play the most guys,” Gardner said. “If we can get a good rotation and get guys really pushing themselves and pushing each other then we’ll be just fine.”
The addition of so many linemen was necessitated by the departures of long-time Cowboys DeMarcus Ware, Jay Ratliff and Jason Hatcher during the last year.
“That’s probably the biggest change of it all. Since I’ve been here those guys have been here and we’ve been together,” veteran lineman Anthony Spencer said. “Not having those guys and just having a new group to get used to their personalities.”
Defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli got the chance to begin his evaluation of his new crop of linemen Friday. While the roles are different for his linemen, the skills he teaches will overlap amongst all of them, he said.
“Part of the deal is every guy is going to rush,” Marinelli said. “And I’ve got to coach that. There’s no gimmes here.”
Throughout the defensive drills in Friday’s minicamp, the Cowboys’ coaching staff was getting onto the new defensive players, who wore dark blue practice jerseys while the offense wore white. A repeated command was to “run to the ball.”
“Ultimately what we’re trying to do is develop the right habits for our players, individually and collectively,” Garrett said. “Running to the football is a habit. When it’s coached well and it’s ingrained in the player, it goes from the practice field and shows up on Sunday.”
He added that Marinelli holds great meetings on teaching habits to his players, both rookies and veterans. On the practice field at Valley Ranch, it’s not a meeting setting, but the coaching staff made its points clear.
“There’s effort, then there’s NFL effort,” Gardner said. “For us rookies being here, that’s one of those things we’ve got to learn. It’s every single down, and if you don’t bring it every single down these coaches are gonna let you know.”
Bear in mind
Four former Baylor Bears are in Cowboys rookie camp this weekend: Running back Glasco Martin and tight end Jordan Najvar on offense, and safety Ahmad Dixon and linebacker Eddie Lackey on defense.
Garrett attributed the bounty of Bears to the Baylor program and its head coach, Art Briles.
“They’re not having success there by accident,” Garrett said “We think a lot about that when we bring players in here, what kind of training have they had and what kind of environment they’ve been in.”
“We know how to work. That’s something Coach Briles and Coach [Kaz] Kazadi take pride in, that we have a workmanship. I think that’s what [Jason Garrett] likes about us,” Dixon said.
Dixon, a seventh-round choice who has been a Cowboys fan for his whole life, said it makes it easier to have guys around that he knows.
“When you come to this level you want to be in a place where you know you can be comfortable,” he said. “Since day one I’ve been comfortable here, just like being back at Baylor.”
Dixon sat out the first day of practice with a sore hip. He said it’s nothing more than soreness, and he labeled himself “day-to-day.”