|08-16-2007, 04:09 AM||#1|
Join Date: Apr 2006
Players struggle to keep their cool under Texas sun
By Jeff Legwold, Rocky Mountain News
IRVING, Texas - First, take some triple-digit heat in a grass-covered oven. Add a generous helping of double-take players, some looking to keep their jobs.
Then sprinkle in the idea it is the third week of an NFL training camp, often a common starting point for a foul football mood, and it all can be a recipe for helmet- swinging trouble.
"And I've had a lot of these things turn into a melee instead of practice . . . ," Dallas Cowboys coach Wade Phillips said. "But I think these two teams knew what we're out there for. We're there to practice, to get better, not to fight."
No melees were to be found Wednesday as the Broncos went through the first two of four joint practices with the Cowboys at Dallas' Valley Ranch complex before the two teams play Saturday night at Texas Stadium.
And all involved obviously had gotten their coaches' message - practice hard but throw no punches. The closest to a post-play clash came early in the afternoon practice, when Broncos defensive end Ebenezer Ekuban and Cowboys tackle Marc Colombo put the clamps on each other's face masks for a few moments before being separated.
"These are very competitive guys . . . ," Broncos coach Mike Shanahan said. "I think we've got two class organizations who know how to work against each other and I'd be surprised if something pops up. . . .
"We understand it. We know emotion is going to show up every once in a while. We believe our players have enough class to understand the business, to give a little bit."
It is the second time in the past two training camps - the Broncos went to Houston for joint workouts with the Texans last year - Shanahan has packed up the team and sent it south deep into two-a-days.
"I like it, it comes at a time when the attention may be waning a little bit for some guys . . . ," safety John Lynch said. "It also gives you a little more of game situation to see guys, too. Some guys lift it up and some guys might be having a great camp, and then you get in something like this and you say, 'What happened,' because you don't see the same thing."
"I think (Shanahan) just likes it," cornerback Champ Bailey said. "I think he likes to see how guys react when maybe you don't know what to expect."
That includes reacting to fatigue, heat or the possibility of not only lining up across from a Pro Bowl player, but where the element of surprise still is a factor. It's when an opportunity for someone hoping to catch a coach's eye is bigger, with the first roster cuts coming in a couple of weeks.
"You're not looking at our stuff, the things you've been seeing day after day in offseason workouts or in training camp," Lynch said. "Now you have to play the play, what you see."
And there also is the matter of those who know one another's game. Bailey, for example, lined up a few times across from Terrell Owens, and so did Broncos cornerback Dré Bly.
Broncos blockers took their shot at Cowboys outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware - he has been a Pro Bowl starter - while cornerback Terence Newman found himself matched up at times with Broncos receiver Javon Walker.
"It gets competitive," Owens said. "Everyone wants to hone in on their skills and perfect your craft. . . . Wasn't anything spectacular; went out and tried to get some work done."
For Shanahan, the trip also means the Broncos get an extended look at a 3-4 defense. At least one of the reasons Phillips said he was hired by Cowboys owner Jerry Jones after a stint as San Diego Chargers defensive coordinator was to keep Dallas' 3-4 scheme.
The Broncos have a smattering of games against 3-4 teams this season, or teams that at least show some 3-4 formations in certain situations. But two of those games are with the Chargers, who won the AFC West last season at 14-2 and return the bulk of their roster.
"And I like to go against different schemes, things that you may not do," Shanahan said. "It's good for players to see that, good for us to go against it and see how things match up. You see it during the season, you have to adapt to things, adjust. That's what good teams do. It's good for players to have to work against different things."
Others, though, looked out on the crowded field and took a little different view of it all.
"One of the things that comes through your mind when you walk out there is, there is $300 million in salaries out there on that field," Jones said. "I don't know if you can get that anywhere else."