Observations from Dallas Cowboys OTAs: Mike McCarthy hates limitations

·5 min read
Michael //AP

Dallas Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy is old school when it comes to preparing his football team for the upcoming season.

But he is now a law-abiding citizen as far as the NFL and NFLPA rules concerning contact in the offseason.

The NFL Management Council disciplined the Cowboys last offseason for violating rules governing offseason work. They lost a day of OTAs for 2023 as a result of OTA practices in 2022 that were considered too physical. McCarthy was fined $100,000. And this was after he was fined $50,000 in 2021 for the same violation.

The financial loss is still a sore point for McCarthy and his wife, he said.

So the Cowboys are conducting OTA practices with a version of football that is softer than two-hand touch or flag football.

There are were competitive drills. The team drills are walk-throughs and job-throughs.

And defensive backs are not allowed to make plays on football in hopes of discouraging what could be perceived as too much physical contact.

“There are rules that we all have to adhere to,” McCarthy said. “Team drills really are not practical under the guidelines, in my opinion, that exists.”

McCarthy said the Cowboys will probably do some full speed two-minute work for the first time when they conduct minicamp June 6-8.

But as far as the nine OTA practices, it will be the underwear Olympics to the highest level.

It’s all frustrating to quarterback Dak Prescott, who said it’s hard to practice knowing defensive backs can’t make plays on the ball.

Cornerback Stephen Gilmore could have made deflections in practice but had to ease up.

“We can’t really compete yet,” Gilmore said. “I’m just trying to be in the right place.”

It should be noted that earlier this week the New England Patriots was docked two days of OTAs for violating league rules.

Here are some quick observations from Cowboys OTA’s practice:

1. Quarterback Dak Prescott looked sharp. His best period a day came in a two-minute setting when he completed eight straight passes to get the Cowboys inside the 10. But he overthrew a wide open tight end Jake Ferguson, then had a pass dropped by receiver Michael Gallup and then had a miscommunication with receiver CeeDee Lamb. Again, defensive backs were not allowed to make plays on the ball. Stephon Gilmore altered the pass to Gallup, though it hit him in both hands.

2. Micah Parsons did the bulk of his work with the defensive line and pass rush linebackers. He saw some work in the walk through at off the ball linebacker but then on out it was at edge. The linebackers were separate during individual drills with off the ball inside linebackers during their thing and edge rushers working with defensive line coach Aden Durde.

“Nothing has changed for Micah,” McCarthy said. “He’s an elite defensive player. We will continue to create opportunities for him. It also creates opportunities for others. The outlook has not changed for Micah.”

3. Tyron Smith worked solely at right tackle with Tyler Smith at left tackle. Terence Steele was held out as he is still rehabbing from a torn ACL. Tyler Smith said he has worked exclusively at left tackle throughout the offseason. He has taken no reps at guard. Tyron Smith said he is comfortable playing right tackle and will do whatever to help the team.

4. Matt Farniok alternated with Chuma Edogo at left guard. Josh Ball played right guard. Pro Bowl right guard Zack Martin was present but didn’t participate.

5. Defensive ends DeMarcus Lawrence and Dante Fowler were also present but didn’t participate in practice. Safety Malik Hooker and cornerback Trevon Diggs were not present on Thursday. Cornerback Jourdan Lewis is still rehabbing a foot injury that ended his 2022 season.

6. Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy said receiver Brandin Cooks and cornerback Stephon Gilmore, both acquired via trades in March, have already made their presence felt.

“Definitely two excellent veterans. Just their veteran experience and their abilities speaks for itself,” McCarthy said. “I mean, even everything professionally. Obviously, I’ve been with the offense. Being around Brandon. Just so happy to he’s here.”

7. It was good to see defensive passing game coordinator Joe Whitt Jr. back on the field coaching. He spent most of the time last year coaching in the class room and from the booth due a medical condition that was discovered in training camp.

8. Running back Tony Pollard is on or ahead of schedule in his rehab from a fractured ankle. He is taking part in walk-through practices and will be ready to go full speed when the Cowboys report to training camp in July.

9. Among the rookies working with the veterans during the opening walk though were tight end Luke Schoonmaker and undrafted free agent fullback Hunter Luepke. Keep an eye on Luepke, the former North Dakota State star who got 200,000 in guarantees from the Cowboys. First-round pick Mazi Smith worked at nose guard with the first team during the final 2 minute drill.

10. Deuce Vaughn, the 5-foot-5 dynamo, certainly looks small among the Cowboys, especially during blocking and special teams drills. But he came up with a big play, catching a deep pass from quarterback Will Grier on a scramble drill.