Cowboys, Chargers bang heads in heat, on grass
IRVING, Texas -- The air was hot, the grass was real and the guys on the other side of scrimmage wore different uniforms. It was a practice unlike anything the Dallas Cowboys have had this preseason.
The 4 a.m. Pacific time wake-up call was different for the San Diego Chargers, too.
The Cowboys and Chargers spent the first of three days together Thursday with a morning workout on the outdoor fields at Cowboys' headquarters. They squared off for almost two hours, leaving around the time temperatures made their near-daily bolt beyond 100 degrees.
Philip Rivers threw against DeMarcus Ware and the Dallas starting defense, and Tony Romo threw against Shaun Phillips and San Diego's starting defense on separate fields. Many of the drills were the same as the teams would run in their usual practice, spiced up because they were going against foes instead of teammates. There will be more of the same in a controlled scrimmage Friday at Cowboys Stadium, then the preseason game Sunday night.
"Sometimes you can get comfortable working against the same guys," Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said. "It's fun to shock the system a little bit."
The early start -- 9 a.m. local time, but 7 a.m. to the Chargers' body clocks -- was a necessity, since it allowed the work to be done with temperatures still in double-digits. San Diego coach Norv Turner said that helped fit the theme of shaking guys from their comfort zones.
"It's all just changes that they have to handle," he said. "The whole thing is good for us."
The clubs decided to squeeze in the joint practices to piggyback on the preseason game. It was pretty easy to arrange considering Turner was among Garrett's mentors, their relationship stemming from the early 1990s when Turner was the offensive coordinator and Garrett the backup quarterback on Dallas teams that won the Super Bowl following the 1992 and '93 seasons.
Turner said he hadn't been on these fields since 1994.
"You walk out and it brings back some great memories," he said.
Walking out also felt like walking into an oven. It was pushing 90 degrees when practice started, a jolt for Dallas players accustomed to the air conditioning of the Alamodome and Cowboys Stadium, and for San Diego players accustomed to their gentle climate. Two ambulances were nearby, with plenty of ice, water and sports drinks to keep everyone well hydrated.
Turner said this was the Chargers' hottest practice. Ware joked that the conditions were the reason no fights broke out.
"It's like, `Hey guys, let's get used to this heat first before we start all this intensity," he said.
Cowboys tight end Jason Witten said the draining weather provided a good test.
"Guys got a little tired there at the end," he said. "You've got to have that feeling of what it's like to dig deep -- your stomach's hurting, you're tired and you can't take a play off. I think some of the guys are learning that. There's no better way to do it than right here, especially when you're competing against a different opponent."
The good news for Dallas players was the grass field -- lush, "like a putting green," according to Chargers receiver Patrick Crayton, who spent six years with the Cowboys before being released last year.
Witten appreciated the soft footing more than ever after so many weeks on artificial turf.
"I used to hear all those old guys talk about, `Oh, my knees can't handle this turf," Witten said. "I came out here today and I felt like a new man."
NOTES: Crayton was always a good quote in his Dallas days, but he was on his best behavior Thursday, refusing to say anything about the fact the Cowboys could use a veteran No. 3 receiver like him. ... Former Cowboys star Larry Allen watched practice and spent time chatting with top pick Tyron Smith, an offensive tackle. "He has long arms and he uses his reach well. He just needs to pick it up a little bit and get a little quicker," Allen said. "I'm planning on taking him out to lunch and give him a little talk." ... Dallas receiver Miles Austin missed the workout with a strained hamstring that could keep him out Sunday night.
Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press
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