FRISCO, Texas -- The Dallas Cowboys have finished their 25-day Pacific tour, and the best part of returning home could be the boost they get from the return of key players to practice.
Defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence (shoulder), defensive tackle Tyrone Crawford (hip) and cornerback Byron Jones (hip) have been on the physically unable to perform list since training camp began, but they have all made sufficient progress in their rehab that they could return to practice soon, according to coach Jason Garrett.
Linebacker Sean Lee suffered a knee injury during the first padded practice of camp, but he went through an involved rehab session and warm-up prior to last Saturday's preseason game against the Los Angeles Rams in Honolulu.
"I feel great," Lee said. "Physically, I've improved a lot. Unfortunately I got rolled into at practice. Don't want to miss time, but I'm feeling really good and should be good soon."
Guard Zack Martin has not practiced since Aug. 3 because of what was described as an irritation of a disk in his back. Last week in Oxnard, California, he said he was improving but wasn't sure when he would be able to resume full practice.
Wide receiver Amari Cooper has not practiced since Aug. 6 because of a heel bruise, but he was running routes off to the side and made the trip to Hawai'i even though he could not play.
Lawrence, Jones, Martin, Cooper and Lee have combined for 13 Pro Bowl appearances.
"That's an opportunity to see a lot of other guys," Garrett said. "Those guys have been good players for us. They need to practice, they need to work, but for whatever reason they can't do it, and it gives someone else a chance. We find out where that person is and we also find out how that person grows and develops with the opportunities he gets. That's a big part of this thing."
And then there's Ezekiel Elliott, who has returned from Cabo, Mexico, and is reportedly at his lowest weight since his rookie season. He is facing fines of more than $900,000 for not showing up yet for camp and is closing in on potentially having to repay $1 million or so in prorated signing bonus money. Contract talks are progressing slowly.
The Cowboys had hoped to close out an extension for their Pro Bowl running back while in California. Now, with the regular season 21 days away, Dallas hopes its return to Texas will spur the discussions with not only Elliott's agents but also the agents for Dak Prescott and Cooper.
Before we get too far into the second half of the preseason, here are some memorable moments from the Cowboys' time away from home:
As he walked out on the field for the first practice of camp, backup offensive lineman Joe Looney let loose with a somersault and a Megan Rapinoe-like celebration. When Rapinoe retweeted the video of Looney's entrance, the veteran was stoked.
"One of the top athletes in the world," he said. "I respect her so much. Her work ethic, what she does for this country, so it was definitely unbelievable."
Also, the 315-pound Looney lined up at quarterback before motioning out to a tight end role in the Cowboys' final padded practice.
The day before the preseason game against the Rams, the Cowboys visited the Pearl Harbor Memorial, but it almost didn't happen -- Garrett was concerned with getting the players off their schedules before a game.
"I went to our leadership group and said, 'What do you guys think?' ... and to a man they said: 'We have to go, Coach. Are you kidding me? That's our country's history. We need to go. We need to be a part of that,'" Garrett said. "I think that was the attitude our whole team took. The people there do such a great job memorializing that very tragic event in our country's history. ... It was a special day."
Different vantage point
Most offensive coaches like to get a look at things behind the line of scrimmage during training camp, but not new quarterbacks coach Jon Kitna. He sets up shop on the sideline behind the defense.
Next to him is rookie quarterback Taryn Christion, who will repeat the called play so Kitna knows what to look for.
One Prescott touchdown pass stood out. While the crowd cheered on a throw to the post in the back of the end zone to Michael Gallup in 7-on-7 work, Kitna simply repeated the same word loud enough for the quarterback to hear: "Higher, higher, higher." While the pass was complete that time, it would not have been complete in live-game action. It was interesting to hear Kitna demand more.
Superman showed up one day. Actor Dean Cain, who was Garrett's teammate at Princeton, made it to a practice. So did Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Kristy Swanson. Omar Epps has been a constant at a couple of practices the past few years.
Gallup had a bigger reaction when Mark Wahlberg showed up for a workout. "Me and my mom watched 'The Italian Job' all the time," Gallup said. "I had to tell him that was a great movie."