Entering the Dallas Cowboys' final padded practice of training camp Wednesday, head coach Mike McCarthy couldn't have been more effusive with his praise of how well their training camp had run during their time in Oxnard, California.
"We'll try to hit as many situations as possible today: we'll have a two-minute drill, we'll have no-huddle, we'll have a red zone competition, and then we'll have an extended team period in first, second, third, and fourth down, so we want to hit as much situational work as we can today," McCarthy said prior to his team's last padded training camp practice.
"At the end of the day, it's about training the team, and I think it's gone well. ... The pass rush versus the protection work, I don't think we can get better work anywhere. That's been incredible not only for our defensive guys, but for our young [offensive] linemen. They have been tested extremely throughout the camp. ... I like the work, we're not done yet, but I think this has been a good camp."
Of course, right after McCarthy made this proclamation, fights broke out for the first time all camp long between ... the offensive and defensive lines. Pro Bowl center Tyler Biadasz, a three-year veteran, and second-year defensive end Sam Williams sparked a scuffle in the trenches between the Silver and Blue's lines in a run-game drill.
Biadasz later found himself in the middle of another showdown involving fisticuffs in team drills when two-time first-team All-Pro linebacker Micah Parsons hit him with a couple of punches after a play in which Williams and Biadasz went at it again.
Parsons later ended up breaking down the final team huddle at the end of practice following the first fights of camp, urging the team to use the internal conflict to become an even more united front.
"It's the last practice of camp, you have to bring it all you got," Parsons said post-practice Wednesday, via The Fort Worth Star-Telegram. "That's what it's about. I told the guys before we came out there: this is our Super Bowl. It wasn't nothing more than just being ferocious and being a dog competitive. This is where championships are started, right here in camp. It's only one goal at the end of the day."
Quarterback Dak Prescott "loved it" right up until the punches were thrown.
"At that point, we're jeopardizing our team," Prescott said Thursday. "For me, it's about ... Coach always talks about not being the guy to react. To see the passion, that's a testament to what we've put into this thing. How the confidence has grown on offense and the defense believing who they are. ... It shows you're ready to play someone else and really unleash your passion. We have a defense that is the best in the league, and they get to tap you on the head and get to yapping. I'm all for trash talking, but when punches are thrown you're risking breaking hands and fingers, putting the team in jeopardy. It's exciting to see where we are in that last practice, and I don't know that we've had that in my eight years. It's credit to all the work being put in on this team on both sides of the ball."
Ditto for his head coach.
"It's definitely part of a competitive environment, and I'm all for a competitive environment and the fighting as long as you don't cross the line," McCarthy said Thursday. "The message to the team is you can't throw punches. You have to understand the rules of the game. You throw a punch, you're out of the game. You can't ask your team to be super competitive and push the envelope and not think you're going to have situations where we're crossing the line. You can't throw punches, that's the biggest message. I'm all for a healthy skirmish as long as it's healthy. Confidence is good as long as there is no BS, and you can't throw punches. That message goes to the whole team."
The feisty, direct linebacker viewed cranking up the level of competition with his teammates all the way up to a breaking point only served to make everyone better.
"Yeah, I'm here to make them better," Parsons said. "I pushed myself for my own greater good, but me pushing myself is only gonna make them better. No matter who I'm against. I don't care if it's Tyron [Smith], Zack [Martin], Tyler Smith. I'm going to beat the hell out of them. It's only going to make them better."
Parsons Baltimore Ravens all-time defenses as well as the 2010s Seattle Seahawks' Legion of Boom. Wednesday's scuffle highlighted the kind of edge Dallas' defense intends to bring each and every week of the 2023 season.the 2023 Cowboys defense as a unit that can be "up there" with Pro Football Hall of Famer Ray Lewis'
"They came for us. We ain't takin no s---," safety Jayron Kearse said. "All 32 teams. We ain't taken no s--- from nobody. If that's what it comes down to, our offense or the next offense. We're trying to show we're the best in the business. They got spicy out here. It's gonna get spicy on Sundays, Mondays, Thursdays or whenever you have to line up. That's how we're going to come."
Prescott echoed his defensive teammate's stance that the Silver and Blue are not a team to be trifled with in 2023.
"We're nobody's little brother," Prescott said. "I grew up being a little brother and that's not happening anymore. We're family, and it's a blessing to practice with guys who have that passion, but when you get to the locker room, you're on the same team and you leave that all on the field."
Kearse also made a point to clarify that no one on the team has a personal issue with Biadasz going forward.
"Tyler's good feisty and he's been fighting all camp," Kearse said. "That's just how this thing goes on. You know, you're going against a bunch of dogs on the opposite side. It just brings the best out of you. They brought it to us today. So but at the end, you know, we were going to stand up."
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After the two melees Wednesday, the Cowboys have turned their attention toward counting down the days until their 2023 season opener against their NFC East rival New York Giants on "Sunday Night Football."
"This was our last day in Oxnard with our pads on, maybe that's what it was," Kearse said. "Guys are a little tired and it just took that little extra oomph to get through the day. Maybe that's what brought it out, but it's all good competition. And you come Sept. 10, it's gonna be another team on on opposite side."
Dallas next takes the field against an actual opponent Saturday at the Seahawks, and it will continue the rest of its training camp practices back home at The Star in Frisco, Texas, on Tuesday.