IRVING, Texas — Cowboys rookie defensive back J.J. Wilcox returned to practice Wednesday, four days after his mother's funeral.
While it was still hard personally dealing with his mom's death after her 13-year bout with lupus, Wilcox was glad to be with his teammates again after 10 days away.
"It was just good to get back and have fun again," he said after practice.
"I don't think it was a distraction. I think it's more like I relief, because this is something I love to do," he said. "And the way they supported me, I just wanted to go out there and tell them I appreciated it."
Wilcox left the team's training camp Aug. 11 and went home to Georgia after getting a call from his father. Two days later, his 49-year-old mother passed away.
The Cowboys told their third-round draft pick from Georgia Southern to take all the time he needed to be with his family, including his 14-year-old sister. Wilcox missed the final week of camp in California and last weekend's preseason game at Arizona.
"When you get accustomed to somebody for 33 years with my dad, and 22 years with me, and they are all of sudden gone, it's tough," he said. "It's still fighting me to this day, I felt it a little at practice. But I'm going to be strong, be blessed and I'm going to keep pushing."
While Wilcox had talked about how special it was for his mother to see him get drafted, few if any of his teammates or coaches knew how serious the situation was until he left camp.
"I tried not to let that hinder me from my performance and let my teammates down. So I deal with that off the field and when I'm on the field, I let it go and just use it as fuel to keep pushing," he said. "It's part of life and we have ups and downs, and that was part of my downs. But I know my ups will probably overdo my downs now. So I'm looking for the good now."
Wilcox, whose roster spot was never in jeopardy because of his absence, likely will play in Saturday night's preseason game at home against the Bengals.
B.W. Webb wore Wilcox's No. 27 jersey during the team's final walkthrough practice to honor his fellow rookie defensive back. Before both were drafted by the Cowboys, they had become friends at the Senior Bowl and NFL combine.
"I just wanted to let him know I'm supporting him," Webb, a fourth-round pick from William & Mary, said Wednesday. "He's like my brother."
Wilcox said he had tears to his eyes when he heard about Webb wearing his jersey.
Coach Jason Garrett said it was good to have Wilcox back, and that the Cowboys would continue to support him any way they could.
"He had a very difficult time with his mom. We wanted to make sure he had plenty of time to take care of that the right way. It's difficult for anybody," Garrett said. "He is young man trying to make his way in this league so we want to support him as any way we can."
Garrett said Wilcox seemed to have a good practice Wednesday and appeared to be in a good frame of mind.
"But I imagine with a situation like that you will have lapses and your mind will wander to really important places," the coach said.
Though it was tough leaving his family in Cairo, Ga., Wilcox said it wasn't hard to decide it was time to return to the Cowboys.
"I know this is my job, this is my occupation," said Wilcox, a running back his first three seasons in college before switching to the defensive backfield. "It's something I have to do to support my family back home."
Notes: Doug Free, who started all 16 games at right tackle last year and every game the previous two seasons at left tackle, took snaps at right guard Wednesday. Garrett said the team is "just looking at different combinations" because of numerous injuries on the line. Free's response while walking in the hallway after practice, "It's too early to tell. I don't know anything." ... Eight-time Pro Bowl tight end Jason Witten finally took a day off Wednesday. Garrett gives veterans occasional breaks, but Witten had never taken one when healthy. "it's a six-year discussion. We finally broke through," the coach said. DeMarcus Ware, Jason Hatcher and Miles Austin also got a break.