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For Cowboys, 1 (on 1) step at a time

IRVING, Texas -- With two snaps left in the one-on-one passing drills during last week's minicamp, Jason Garrett wanted to make sure the entire roster was watching.

The Dallas Cowboys head coach called Sean Lee to go against Lance Dunbar, and the linebacker stuffed the running back on a route to force an incompletion. Next up was Dez Bryant vs. Morris Claiborne -- the club's No. 1 pick in the 2010 draft against the No. 1 pick of the 2012 draft.

Bryant easily slipped inside Claiborne on a slant and scored a touchdown.

It was only a June minicamp practice, being run without pads, but Garrett made it feel more important.

"When you have something on the line," Garrett said, "it typically ups the ante and everybody responds the right way to it."

When the Cowboys' offseason began, Garrett attempted to create competitive situations everywhere, from the weight room to the field. He wants player to push player, position group to push position group, offense to push defense and defense to push offense.

Football is the ultimate team game, but players who win one-on-one battles make the team better.

Garrett recalled the intensity of the practices when he played in the 1990s. The two-minute drill run on Thursdays was a matter of pride when the first-team offense would go against the first-team defense.

Darren Woodson has said those practices were more difficult than games, which is a sign of just how good those Cowboys teams were and just how competitive those players were.

Whichever side of the ball won that day would carry a fictional title until the next week's practice.

The same goes for today's players.

"Everybody keeps track," eight-time Pro Bowl tight end Jason Witten said. "Everybody's always keeping track. We win today. They win tomorrow. Even in your one-on-one battles, I think that's what great players do. For the longest time we've heard about the one-on-ones between Michael Irvin and Deion Sanders and all that. You try to create that atmosphere where they're talking about Brandon Carr against Dez and Lee and (DeMarco) Murray."

Earlier in one of the organized team activities, Witten had a battle against Lee, running a simple option route that he has done a million times and Lee has seen a million times. As Witten went for the catch, Lee poked the ball away, setting up something that resembled a game of hot potato for nearly five yards before the ball went to the ground.

"I just know a couple of days earlier he beat me pretty good on the same route," Lee said, "so I was doing everything I could to stop him on that route that day."

Witten said: "Those are battles that you're trying to win as many as you can. Honestly, the best players I've been around are the most competitive and prideful and are willing to go against anybody. Anytime you can get 50, 60 guys doing that, that's how you build a football team."

Garrett likes to use his veterans as frames of reference. He tells the young players to look at how a Witten, Lee, Bryant and DeMarcus Ware practice and to do what they do. When the younger players see Pro Bowlers or near-Pro Bowlers practicing at a high level -- especially in May or June -- then they have no excuse not to work just as hard.

The competition between Gavin Escobar and J.J. Wilcox might not get as much attention as that between Witten and Lee, but Garrett wants to make sure the intensity does not suffer.

"We're battling," Bryant said of his work against Claiborne. "It's something worth seeing. We're both going to fight for the ball. We're showing these younger guys that's how you're supposed to work, this is how you get to where you want to be. I just feel like it's good that we're out there putting on a show for the younger guys."

And if they didn't notice, Garrett will use a moment in the team meeting to highlight those plays.

"We're playing for the championship of the world," he said, "and the winner gets a protein bite."

He's hoping today's protein bite turns into tomorrow's Lombardi Trophy.