News: Mini-Camp Notebook: Center Of Attention -

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  1. Lord Sun

    Lord Sun New Member

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    Sarah Piland & Mickey Spagnola,

    IRVING, Texas -- Al Johnson didn't know how well practice would go Saturday at the Dallas Cowboys' first veterans mini-camp. He had suffered a season-ending knee injury during last year's training camp requiring a somewhat dicey microfracture surgery, and this would be the first time to work with the team again.

    Well, good news: So far, so good.

    "So far, I'd say it [his knee] is pretty good," Johnson said Sunday after the second of five scheduled mini-camp practices here at Valley Ranch. "I wouldn't say it's where it was a year ago, but it's pretty close. So far I can't really tell that it's holding me back any, other than it's rusty."

    Johnson, last year's second-round draft pick from Wisconsin, has been taking his turn in the center rotation, one that surprisingly does not include last year's 16-game starter Matt Lehr, who is working at guard. The other two players in the rotation are veteran Gennaro DiNapoli and versatile third-year lineman Tyson Walter.

    Although Johnson is concentrating on getting his knee completely healthy, he has a high bar to reach, knowing he basically had earned the starting center job just a week into training camp his rookie season. And it appears he's picking up where he left off, working with the first unit these opening two days of mini-camp.

    "It's been a long road," Johnson said. "Coming from early August and not being able to play all season - doing rehab - it's been a long road. But things happen and you just have to move on and make the best of them. So far it's been looking good. I just hope that it stays that way."

    Johnson suffered the injury to his knee just 10 days into last year's training camp working against the Houston Texans at the Alamodome in San Antonio. And even though he realizes he's back competing for the starting job, his most important objective is to first make sure his knee is sound.

    "I'm really not worried about [the competition]," Johnson said. "I'm really just worried about trying to get back into football form - working on technique and things like that. When you take a whole year off, there's a lot of things you lose, little things that you worked on everyday and now I haven't worked on them for eight, nine months.

    "Really, I'm not even worrying about the competition. I think it will take care of itself. There's a long way to go before the first game."

    Return Coach

    Cowboys head coach Bill Parcells picked up where he left off last year, staying after practice to provide some tutoring for the return guys.

    After Sunday's second practice, Parcells kept a watchful eye on the players apparently being considered as kick-off return candidates, a group that included second-round draft choice Julius Jones, fourth-round pick Bruce Thornton, seventh-round pick Nathan Jones and rookie free agents Patrick Crayton, Brandon Middleton and Terrance Copper.

    Earlier in the practice during special teams session, catching punts were cornerback Terence Newman, second-year receiver Zuriel Smith and Copper, who appeared to slightly pull a hamstring, causing Parcells to tell him after practice to get stretched out, drink more liquids, get in the cold pool and be ready to go for Monday's two practice sessions.

    No Veteran Moment

    Veteran wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson showed his desire to catch the ball again on Sunday. The nine-year veteran actually laid out to make an impressive diving catch during these non-contacts drills - something you won't catch a whole lot of veterans doing this time of year.

    This was the second time in this mini-camp Johnson has made an eye-opening catch. In Saturday's practice, after slipping to the ground in his route, Johnson popped up without even as much as using his hands to push off to make the grab.

    Short Shots

    Wide receiver Randal Williams has missed the first two days of this three-day mini-camp, having been excused to attend to some unexpected family matters . . . . Rookie free-agent wide receiver James Newson is the only other player not attending this mini-camp, still not eligible to join the club since Oregon State is on quarters and does not finish the semester until next week . . . . Punters Mat McBriar and Ryan Flinn again are showing why the Cowboys are willing to see just what these guys can do in training camp with the pressure on. Both, with a little wind at their backs, were crushing punts during Sunday's practices.

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