ARLINGTON, Texas – The practice was very much the same, but the venue could not have been more different.
The Cowboys went through the Silver and Blue Debut on Thursday night – the final full practice before Saturday’s preseason home opener. But while the past month’s practices have taken place on humble practice fields in Oxnard, Calif., and Valley Ranch, Thursday’s show took place on the grand stage of AT&T Stadium.
“It’s fun, you know, it really is. This is a great building,” said Cowboys coach Jason Garrett. “We all feel very fortunate to be able to play and coach in it. It’s probably as good a stadium as there is on the planet. To be able to come here to practice and play our games here is really special.”
It was a typical practice for a team that’s 48 hours away from the toughest action of the preseason – the second-to-last preseason game is typically referred to as the dress rehearsal. The Cowboys practices in shorts and shirts with no pads, working primarily on timing and fine-tuning.
But pregame, non-contact practices don’t typically take place in front of such a crowd. Over10,000 fans attended the event, not to mention a plethora of Cowboys alumni from Roger Staubach and Mel Renfro to Larry Brown and Jay Novacek.
The opportunity is one Garrett said the Cowboys need to be mindful of.
“A couple of years ago we had training camp here for a couple weeks, and I think the guys really, really enjoyed being here,” Garrett said. “It’s just a fantastic facility, and I think every time you go out there you just remind yourself how fortunate we are to be a part of it.”
Despite the routine nature of the workout, the atmosphere amped the anticipation up a bit. Even tight end Jason Witten, with 10 years and four seasons at AT&T Stadium under his belt, could feel it.
Witten said a practice in the home stadium lets him know the season is almost here.
“It always knows it’s just right around the corner when you’re here,” he said. “You see the excitement in the fans and the alumni, and you get that feeling. I think every year, as a player, there’s always that time when you know you’re getting close. This is kind of the kick off for that.”
It wouldn’t be the NFL if there weren’t some competitive advantage to something as routine as a practice. AT&T Stadium had a new turf field put down during July, and Garrett said it was nice to give the team some experience on the new carpet before game day.
“It’s good for us to be able to get out there, run around a little bit and have a real football practice instead of just walking around on it or jogging around on it before the game,” he said. “I think that’s a good thing for our team to be able to take advantage of.”
The full opulence of AT&T Stadium wasn’t even on display for the Silver and Blue Debut. The stadium staff was still working on game mechanics, and only the building’s lower level was filled.
That said, Garrett noted the value of an in-stadium practice before the Cowboys kick off against the Bengals – especially the team’s newcomers.
“One of the real positives of coming over here today is that they get a chance to see it, and some of the awe factor goes away a little bit,” Garrett said. “When they come back on Saturday, they’re ready to go to work and play a ball game – that’s an added benefit of practicing here tonight.”