Cowboys TE coach has 478 strange ways to ‘create distractions’

OXNARD, Calif. — Watching the tight ends go through drills after practice has been arguably the most entertaining part of Dallas Cowboys training camp.

New tight ends coach Mike Pope has a weird way of making things interesting.

The 72-year-old has more than a few tricks up sleeve. Well, he has 478 to be exact.

A couple of the strangest have been on display the last two days. Pope had the tight ends catching passes shirtless while he hit them with buckets of ice water on Tuesday. After Wednesday’s practice, the group caught passes with what appeared to be white laundry bags over their heads.

"One of the things I really concentrate on teaching and getting them to understand, because they don’t really believe it, is that when the ball comes and something really abnormal happens, they flinch," Pope said. "They temporarily close their eyes. It’s an instinct. Sometimes it’s uncontrollable. Hitting them with the ice water, they all flinch.

"I told them all, if I bet you your car [that they won’t flinch], they’d all be walking because that ice water hits them and it’s such a shock to their body. Any of those things that you can do to try to distract them is a decent drill."

Pope’s goal is to get the group to concentrate on the ball. At their position, defenders are always around. Defensive linemen, linebackers and safeties bump, grab and pull at the tight ends while they’re running routes.

Pope, who won four Super Bowl rings as a position coach for the New York Giants, says the defenders don’t care about getting a flag if it means saving a big play. The grabbing is going to happen. Pope wants his guys to be prepared to fight through it.

And the worst thing they can do is complain to Pope if a flag isn’t tossed.

"I tell them they can get a cup and get on the corner with a cane if they’re going to beg all the time," Pope said. "Don’t beg. Beat the coverage. Catch the ball. Don’t be distracted by what happens to you, so they have to play through that mentally.

"It’s good for us to have that kind of treatment in practice because it gets us ready for the game."

Pope’s had his group laying on the ground while he fired footballs at them. He throws passes holding the ball in different ways so they don’t know what angle it’s coming from.

Pope also has individual players hold a ball and turn their backs to him. When he says turn, they throw the ball up in the air, catch the one he fires at them and then catch the one they just tossed.

Pope wrote all of his drills down one time and came up with 478.

"Can’t remember all of them because I’m getting a little older," he said. "It’s foolish to practice on air because we all know that has nothing to do with the game.

"To be more realistic, you have to create distractions in order for them to build that in the game, heat of the battle technique to move their head and see the ball hit their hands."