Despite accident, assistant back on the job full time

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SAN ANTONIO --- Dallas Cowboys special teams coach Joe DeCamillis still wears a neck brace and has to sleep sitting in a chair. Yet he refuses to let the broken neck he suffered when the team's practice facility collapsed keep him from doing his job.

Dallas special teams coach Joe DeCamillis still wears a brace after suffering a broken neck when the Cowboys' practice facility collapsed May 2. He has to sleep sitting in a chair.  Associated Press
Associated Press
Dallas special teams coach Joe DeCamillis still wears a brace after suffering a broken neck when the Cowboys' practice facility collapsed May 2. He has to sleep sitting in a chair.

Well, there has been one adjustment.

"In the past, I was able to run down the field after my guys on kickoffs," he said, smiling. "I'm not able to do that right now. That'll hopefully be down the road."

DeCamillis spoke Wednesday following the first practice of Cowboys training camp. It was his first interview with local reporters since the May 2 accident that he was lucky to survive.

His injury required surgery to repair broken vertebrae. Just 16 days later, he was back on the practice field for the start of summer workouts. The tough-guy approach to his recovery has impressed everyone in the organization, so much that Cowboys head coach Wade Phillips has held it up as an example to the club.

"I can show the players that hey, this guy's out there working and working hard and don't cry to me about, 'I feel tired today,'" Phillips said.

DeCamillis laughed off the idea that he's an inspiration, saying, "That's going to last for about a day, I can tell you that. They're going to be complaining about their feet and all of that anyway."

DeCamillis was hired to get special teams to play better. This is his 21st year in the NFL and his 16th in charge of special teams.

The Cowboys struggled in that area in recent years. When they decided to switch coaches, Phillips brought in his pal Joe D., having worked with him in Atlanta in 2003. Their connection runs deeper through their mutual boss with the Falcons, Dan Reeves -- Phillips' longtime friend and DeCamillis' father-in-law.

DeCamillis was working with rookies inside a tent-like practice bubble when a burst of high winds made the structure essentially implode. DeCamillis and 11 others were injured, including a scouting assistant left paralyzed by a severed spine.

"I don't even want to talk about it all, to be honest with you," DeCamillis said. "Let's go forward from that day."

He certainly did, surprising everyone by walking onto a practice field with his neck brace and guiding the first OTA workout in June. Doctors said it was OK and the team took all sorts of precautions. Among the little things were giving him a bullhorn to accommodate his weak voice and having his wife drive him to and from the field.

The one positive to come from the accident was the outpouring of support DeCamillis received. It was especially meaningful for someone who'd only been part of the organization a few months.

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