OXNARD, Calif. – Having combined for 189 career games and six Pro Bowl appearances between them, Dallas Cowboys defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence and wide receiver Amari Cooper don’t necessarily need the day-to-day grind of training camp.
But both are close to getting on the field for the first time this summer.
Lawrence was activated off the physically unable to perform list on Tuesday, while Cooper said he is close to 100 percent from an ankle surgery he had last January.
As the Cowboys open the preseason on Thursday at the Hall of Fame Game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Lawrence and Cooper will either be spectators or remain in Oxnard, California, to continue their rehab.
“It’s up to the trainers and the doctors,” Lawrence said of when he will practice. “I feel like they got a good game plan to work me back in and whatever they need from me I’m willing and I’m there.”
Earlier in training camp, owner and general manager Jerry Jones said Lawrence and Cooper would not practice until the Cowboys returned to The Star in Frisco, Texas, after the Aug. 13 preseason game against the Arizona Cardinals.
“I wouldn’t say I’m quite 100 percent yet, to be completely candid. But I’m real close. I can do everything, maybe a little better, just because I’ve been rehabbing so hard,” Cooper said. “Just trying to be the best Amari Cooper that I can be, trying to be better than I’ve ever been. I’ve been talking to myself a lot lately about how I want this year to be different than any other year that I’ve played football.”
Lawrence had offseason back surgery — his third since the 2015 season ended — to clear up an issue that led to pain shooting down his legs last season.
“It’s different this time because it’s not a bulging disc, it’s just a herniation,” Lawrence said of the differences between the first two surgeries and the most recent. “You’ve got to clean the herniation out, sew it back up and you’re good to go. Especially eight years in the league and understanding the game, it’s all about working smart, not working hard and dumb. Being able to get my feet back underneath me and work myself back underneath me and work myself back in with the boys, I feel like I’m in a good spot.”
Lawrence did not miss a game last season and had a team-high 6.5 sacks to go along with 37 quarterback pressures.
Cooper did not miss a game either, finishing with a career-high 92 catches for 1,114 yards and five touchdowns, but after the Pro Bowl he had bone spurs removed from his ankle that exacerbated an old injury in his right ankle that has since cleared up.
He stepped up his conditioning work this week to a higher level.
“It’s really been intentional; that’s it,” Cooper said. “You set the goals you want in terms of weight, speed, quickness and you can feel a difference.” Both players have gotten more lean.
Lawrence said he has played at 245 pounds the last four seasons and is listed at 254 pounds by the Cowboys.
“To take stress off the back,” he said. “My doctor was telling me sometimes even if you’re 260 that could be still too much weight on your back. So try to lean up, eat good and put muscle back on me.”
Cooper said he played at 225 pounds the last three seasons after entering the league at 212 pounds in 2015.
“You see Julio (Jones) that’s like the guy at Bama and I was accustomed to being smaller already. Not small, but smaller/quicker/faster receiver,” Cooper said. “I wanted to be that guy who was big with all those qualities. Just like big, strong, fast. I did it, it was cool. But I didn’t really notice a difference in terms of it was harder to tackle me. I was playing the same at the line of scrimmage, guys couldn’t really touch me so I just don’t feel like I need to be that big anymore. “I’m 215 now, I’m going to try to play at 210. You might not even be able to see me running.”