Abram Elam never expected a chance to play again for the Dallas Cowboys.
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Yet in his return four years later, the safety is going to be a key in helping his teammates learn the defensive scheme being installed by new coordinator Rob Ryan. Elam knows it well since he played for Ryan in Cleveland the past two seasons.
”Well, I’m familiar with a lot of the terminology, ran some of the same schemes,” Elam said Friday after his first practice with the Cowboys. ”So it makes me feel comfortable coming into this new situation.”
The newly signed starter was on the field for the team’s second workout of the day after not taking part in an earlier walkthrough.
When the defense lined up for one of its first drills, Elam was in the center of the formation and already pointing things out around him. He chatted often with safeties coach Brett Maxie and fellow safety Gerald Sensabaugh, who was on the field for only the second day since re-signing with Dallas.
As a rookie for the Cowboys in 2006, when Bill Parcells was still the coach, Elam was primarily a special teams player who got into 15 games. He was cut at the end of the following training camp, then quickly caught on with the New York Jets for two seasons before going to Cleveland.
Now he’s reunited with Ryan and the Cowboys.
”It was fun walking back into the training room, seeing a lot of the old faces. It feels like I never left,” he said, still wearing his No. 24 Cowboys jersey after a nearly 2 1/2 -hour practice and then more conditioning drills. ”I’m just happy to be back. It all works itself out.”
Elam was part of a Dallas rookie class with Miles Austin, then an undrafted free agent who has since become a Pro Bowl receiver, and defensive end Jason Hatcher.
Since last playing for the Cowboys, Elam has started 48 of his 61 games in four seasons. Elam started 31 of 32 games the last two years with Ryan in Cleveland, where he had 135 tackles, three sacks and two interceptions.
Ryan spoke with Elam several times before the safety agreed to a $2.5 million, one-year deal with Dallas.
”He’s been improving every year,” Ryan said. ”He had a really good solid year, especially in the second half and we’re anxious to get him working with his teammates.”
Soon after Elam came on the field Friday afternoon, he chatted briefly with Ryan in the back of the end zone.
”He keeps me laughing all the time. It’s great to have a great guy like that in your corner and somebody that really believes in you,” Elam said. ”We’ve been communicating. I always knew that I was one of his guys. … In Cleveland, we shared some great moments together and if I had the opportunity to play with Rob, I’ll definitely do it again.”
Ryan told Elam just to be himself.
”He knew the type of guy I was and he knew what he was getting when he got me,” Elam said.
In Ryan’s scheme that is filled with defenders moving around before the snap, the safeties have the responsibility of calling out sets and making sure everybody is going in the right direction.
Elam said it felt good to be back in pads and have a chance to run around on the field after the extended break created by the NFL lockout and then his free agency period. He described himself as ”kind of rusty.”
Still, Elam knows what Ryan expects from the defense more than any other player on the field for now.
”He’ll help some of the young guys come on because of some of his experience in Rob’s defense,” secondary coach Dave Campo said. ”Watching him on tape in the offseason, he understands the scheme. He reacts very well. He can help people line up. Our guys might not understand what could happen to us. He knows what could happen, the strengths and the weaknesses of every coverage.”
Notes: The Cowboys restructured the contracts of LB DeMarcus Ware and WR Miles Austin to help them get to the salary cap by Friday’s deadline. The base salary for the Pro Bowl players was adjusted and both got immediate signing bonuses – $5.9 million for Ware and $7.9 million for Austin. The moves cleared about $11.7 million of cap room. ”We’ve got flexibility,” owner Jerry Jones said. … RG Montrae Holland sat out with back stiffness. … QB Tony Romo was on the field working with Zack Eskridge on the rookie free agent’s throwing motion before the morning walkthrough, even before the main lights had been turned on in the Alamodome.