The start of training camp is here for the Cowboys. They arrived in California on Saturday and will hit the field for the first official practice on Monday.
However, today it was all about owner Jerry Jones, executive vice president Stephen Jones and head coach Jason Garrett taking the podium to face the tough questions posed during the opening press conference, with the focus on the issues surrounding some of the players over the last couple of weeks.
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The party got started with the saga of Ezekiel Elliott. The running back could be facing a suspension over an alleged domestic violence incident last July in Columbus, Ohio. Elliott was never charged and maintains his innocence. The NFL conducted its own investigation into the matter with the process nearing completion and now Elliott awaits a decision on whether a suspension will be handed down from the league office. A player does not need to be charged or found guilty under law in order to be penalized by the league.
“There is absolutely nothing, not one thing that I have seen that has anything to do with domestic violence,” Jones said when asked about the Elliott incident. “I’ve seen nothing.”
Garrett didn’t have a chance to talk to his star running back until Friday and reinforces the belief in Elliott, not just from him but from the entire organization.
“We believe very strongly in Zeke as a person and as a football player,” said Garrett. “We did our due diligence on him. He’s not perfect, he makes mistakes - we all make mistakes. Zeke understands what the standards are for our football team. I think he understands what he needs to do to reach those standards on and off the football field.”
Elliott found himself in even more trouble last week after an incident at a Dallas bar that left a man with a nose injury. Dallas police suspended the investigation because they have not been able to locate the victim or find any witnesses.
He wasn’t the only one that ran into some problems during the offseason. Linebacker Damien Wilson was arrested in Frisco on the Fourth of July on charges of assault with a deadly weapon that he said resulted from “road rage.” Defensive end David Irving is suspended for the first four games of the season due to violating the NFL’s performance-enhancing drug policy. Rookie cornerback Jourdan Lewis is not with the team at the moment as he faces a misdemeanor domestic violence court case this week.
After all this, the Cowboys are still sticking with the “character” narrative.
“Character is critical to us with the Dallas Cowboys,” said Garrett. “We built this team over the last five or six years with great character guys. We believe very strongly in that – that’s the kind of team we want to have – that’s the kind of organization we want to have. We believe when you build with character, that’s what gives you the best chance of having success. We love the character of our team. Having said that we have had some issues and some incidents here over the offseason and we’ll address those issues.”
"Jerry told me when I was young, 'An idol mind is the devil's workshop,' and so at the end of the day, we'd love to have these guys who are around and going to work every day, and those are some of the challenges because infallibility is a tough thing,” added Stephen Jones. “There's no such thing as perfect that I understand in terms of individuals. And so is it disappointing when a player makes a bad decision? Of course it is. It's disappointing, but you have to deal with it. The players know they're going to be held accountable, and they'll have to work through whatever that situation is.”
The Cowboys have a target on their backs after going 13-3 last season, clinching the NFC East division title. They’ll face a tough schedule right out of the gate to start this season with the New York Giants at home in Arlington and then the Denver Broncos on the road after that. Quarterback Dak Prescott already is on record saying the Cowboys will win the East. Giants safety Landon Collins doesn’t agree, saying “we’re definitely gonna take over.”
The fun is about to begin folks.
Needless to say, the expectations surrounding the Cowboys for the 2017 season is high, with a little bit of that “Super Bowl or bust” mentality. However, those high expectations are both on and off the field.
“We’ve got a high bar here, we understand what it is, we certainly feel that we have our share,” said the elder Jones. “Having said that, there should not - in any way be interpreted as any tolerance for any of those things. We don’t have that.”