After the Cowboys came out in blank jerseys for their Sunday practice, some alert readers pointed out the league changed the rules a few years ago when the Patriots did the same.
In 2016, Bill Belichick followed something Chuck Noll did years ago with the Steelers by taking the numbers off the practice jerseys of the Patriots during the offseason program. The idea was players would get to know each other better without a cheat sheet.
The NFL indeed did institute a new rule after that, requiring all players to wear jersey numbers while on the field for Organized Team Activities and mandatory minicamps. The rule was put in place to make it easier to monitor compliance with rules regarding player practices, including ensuring injured players aren’t practicing.
The rule, though, says nothing about training camp.
According to the NFL, teams must begin utilizing numbers on their jerseys on Monday, Sept. 7, the start of Week One preparations.
Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy confirmed the Cowboys did it because the practice was televised locally, and without preseason games this summer, they want to keep other teams in the dark as much as possible about their players. (As it turned out, the TV broadcast showed next to nothing of the practice, focusing on the sideline.)
“We talked about it this past week and frankly, this is such a unique season on so many fronts,” McCarthy said after the practice. “I can’t tell you the number of conversations you have about competitive advantage and disadvantage and frankly with the fact that we were televising the practice, we would be exposing our younger players to an evaluation process that the other teams really are not exposing their team to. That was the reason behind going with the white and blue shirts.
“I just look back to the ’70s and the ’80s and into the ’90s with coach Noll back in Pittsburgh and they always practiced without no numbers on the jerseys, and I think it’s an excellent tool to use with your coaching staff and your personnel staff you got to know your players better, and know the body types, know their mannerisms and it will be a good exercise for us when we watch the tape.”
McCarthy called it a “one-time deal.”