ARLINGTON, Texas — Mike McCarthy did warn that “it’s not a scrimmage, per se.”
The Dallas Cowboys’ first-year coach had said that the team’s first 2020 visit to AT&T Stadium would be “more like a practice” — a hybrid, it seemed, between practice-like football and game-day routines. But the Cowboys’ live-streamed Sunday night football notably omitted a feature that any typical practice or game would include.
Players’ jerseys bore no names or numbers.
Chalk the blank white and navy fabric up to McCarthy’s desire to keep any intel on his new team and new scheme close to the vest. How often will the defense mix a 3-4 look into a 4-3 base defense? Sunday viewers wouldn’t know. Which receiver might have taken a wildcat snap in a training-camp practice? No word on that, either.
“The only potential advantage we have being a first-year staff is preparing in training camp,” McCarthy said Aug. 17 when asked about whether he’d line up running backs Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard together. “I’m not respectfully going to talk about how we use our players. We’re not playing preseason games. Those tendencies of how you utilize all the positions, we want to keep as close to the vest as possible.
“There’s no big secret if we put Zeke and Tony on the field together. I mean, obviously, it makes perfect sense. But the utilization of personnel is something I’m going to stay away from throughout the training camp.”
There’s Cowboys football tonight at AT&T Stadium
(via Dallas Cowboys) pic.twitter.com/9xVC5anlfJ
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Sunday night, and throughout training camp, reporters were prohibited from reporting specific plays, formations or personnel usage. No photos or video, either, save team-supplied footage with attribution.
So why visit AT&T Stadium? McCarthy wanted to ensure his team could rehearse its routine, from pregame meal to pregame bus ride to position-by-position warmups. He wanted to see how rookies vying for roster spots performed with a spotlight just slightly brighter. He wanted to give offensive coordinator Kellen Moore and defensive coordinator Mike Nolan a chance to call plays and coverage live.
Cowboys wide receiver Ventell Bryant catches a pass in front of safety Darian Thompson. (Photo: Michael Ainsworth, AP)
“Really, the biggest thing for us Sunday is to create game-like situations,” McCarthy said last week. “We'll have a number of segments called ‘move the ball’ where the offense, where Kellen and Mike Nolan will just call it as if there was a game. Our goal, Sunday and even Monday's practice, where we have seven 'move the ball' periods slated.
“It's a get-into-the-game-type situation.”
Cowboys team drills, with that long-sleeved QB at the helm, before they headed back through tunnels. Stay tuned.
(📸: Dallas Cowboys) pic.twitter.com/v8pRDGEowD
Fans wanting to “get into the game,” meanwhile, discovered a locally televised and team website-streamed production that aired a three-days-prior interview with linebacker Leighton Vander Esch while quarterback Dak Prescott found an unidentifiable receiver for a touchdown in red zone work.
But, Cowboys football was played in an NFL stadium on a Sunday night.
In two weeks, opening at the Rams’ SoFi Stadium, they might even do so with names and numbers.
Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Jori Epstein on Twitter @JoriEpstein.
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