Cowboys back on Irving practice fields
IRVING, Texas -- A screened chain-link field separates the cleared-out spot where the Dallas Cowboys' indoor facility used to be from two resodded and reconfigured outdoor practice fields.
Gone is all the debris and rubble from the fabric-covered, 80-foot-high tentlike structure that collapsed during a storm May 2 while a rookie minicamp was being held inside.
"I'm pretty sure that people that were here are going to look over and just think about it," rookie linebacker Stephen Hodge said. "But like they tell us, just move on from it. It was a bad thing that happened."
For the first time since the indoor facility collapsed more than 3½ months ago, the Cowboys practiced at Valley Ranch on Monday.
While the covered structure wasn't rebuilt, and the artificial turf field that was under that was removed with the rest of the rubble, the two adjacent outdoor fields had to be redone because of damage and remnants of flying debris.
The Cowboys held offseason workouts and their full-squad minicamp at a local high school stadium, and spent the first three weeks of training camp at the Alamodome in San Antonio.
"I know everyone is happy to be back here practicing at Valley Ranch," rookie receiver Kevin Ogletree said.
Hodge and Ogletree were among 27 rookie and first-year players inside the facility when it collapsed. None of them was seriously hurt, but there were 12 injuries, including a team scouting assistant who was paralyzed from the waist down because of a severed spine, and special teams coach Joe DeCamillis, who sustained a broken neck.
During the early portion of practice opened to reporters Monday, DeCamillis was conducting drills at one end of the field.
Two weeks after the accident and surgery to repair broken vertebrae, DeCamillis returned to practice with the Cowboys wearing a neck brace and shouting into a bullhorn. He was without the brace and the bullhorn during practice.
Scouting assistant Rich Behm, now confined to a wheelchair, also returned to work with the team this summer.
About 70 people, including the players, coaches, support staff and media, were in the practice structure when the storm hit. The facility shook violently before ripping apart during a time when winds were clocked at 64 mph.
With pending legal issues and federal and state inquiries ongoing, players who were inside the structure when it collapsed have been instructed by the team to say little about the accident. The rookies have shared little about what they experienced and seem ready to move on.
"I'm looking past that, just moving on and looking toward the future," kicker David Buehler said.
"All that stuff is in the past, I'm not really worried about the sky falling on me," rookie linebacker Jason Williams said. "The first few weeks after it happened, it was kind of like replaying in my mind over and over again. The last couple of months I haven't even thought about it."
Cowboys owner Jerry Jones wasn't there during the open portion of practice Monday.
When the two grass fields were redone, they were raised and leveled. Only the field farthest from the former indoor facility was being used, though team officials said the second field would be ready to use for the regular season in about three weeks.
The practice fields had previously been crowned in the middle, like the field at Texas Stadium, where the Cowboys had played their home games before this season. The field at the new Cowboys Stadium is a flat surface.
Beyond the fence where the indoor facility was, the ground now resembles a flattened empty lot which served Monday as a parking area for a few trucks and some heavy equipment. There was nothing noticeable in the Irving skyline like the white big top with a blue Cowboys star logo on the side that had been there.
"It is strange because usually you can see it from anywhere within this vicinity," receiver Patrick Crayton said. "Within about two or three miles, you could see that, that's usually been a trademark."
The first practice at Valley Ranch also marked the first time the Cowboys have been outside this preseason, except for their opening game at Oakland. It was sunny and 98 degrees, with a heat index of 103, for the nearly two-hour session.
"It's an adjustment obviously for us, going out in the heat, and it takes a little more concentration, a little more focus," coach Wade Phillips. "I thought [the players] did fine. ... It was good to get back home."
Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press