Impressions from the Dallas Cowboys rookie camp

 

Even though we didn’t get to see it happen, I can assure you that actual Dallas Cowboys players were participating in organized practices at Valley Ranch over the past couple of days. I know this because the Dallas media told me so. It’s one step closer to where we want to be, the 2008 season, and the opportunity to get over the first-round playoff loss – yes Wade Phillips, the first-round loss. It’s not quite training camp, but at least it’s something more than just signing free agents and drafting the college kiddies.

Here are some things I learned, or had re-confirmed, from the past two days of rookie mini-camp, as told to me by the Dallas media with my own free thinking thrown into the mix.

Felix Jones is smooth. That word came up over and over about our new running back and I think it’s a good description. Watching him play for Arkansas and the highlights collected later on YouTube showed a kid who has a natural feel for the game. Wade Phillips chalks it up to athletic ability and vision. Ah, vision, that nebulous definer for running backs. We’re not talking about 20/20 vision; we’re talking about the ability to see the hole, to see defensive players making their attack, the angles they are taking and the wherewithal to get out of the way. Vision was something I thought Julius Jones lacked, for all his quickness and agility, he never seemed to use it correctly on the field. We haven’t seen Felix in pads yet, taking slobber-knocker hits from pro level defenders, but I can’t wait for that time to come.

Mike Jenkins has to learn a new style of coverage. A bump-and-run guy in college, he was at a disadvantage in this camp because he had to play a new style of coverage and the lack of pads limited his ability to get physical with a receiver. It might take time for him to round into form so the preseason games and training camp practices will be huge for him.

Martellus Bennett could join Tony Romo and T.O. in the starting lineup of a Dallas Cowboys basketball team. He also earned praise for his ability to catch the ball and use his body to shield defenders at rookie camp. He’s another player who will face a big test when the pads go on so we can see what kind of blocker he is and how he handles the rough-and-tumble world of getting knocked around by linebackers.

Orlando Scandrick is fast. He’s also adept at playing off receivers which gives him a nice head-start fitting in with the Cowboys coverage schemes. Can he do it when the pads come on and the physical nature of the game increases 100-fold? That’s what training camp is all about but from what we heard he has the technique and speed to be an effective cornerback. He might just be a steal in the 5th-round.

Danny Amendola will be compared to Wes Welker forever, or so it appears. That’s not a bad thing as long as he can hold up his end of the bargain. Slot receivers need to be quick and they need to be good route runners who can get open quickly, they need to be able to put the defense in a bind on who to cover. It’s easy to get excited about an UDFA who comes in to rookie camp and shines – and by all accounts Amendola shined – but I go back to a constant theme, can they do it when the pads come on?

Tearrius George is a guy no one was talking about. The OLB was signed from the CFL at the beginning of the offseason and the only mention I’ve made of him prior to rookie camp was this short blurb in my post-playoff loss roster reviews done in February of this year.

The Cowboys recently signed George from the CFL. He played his college ball at Kansas State and was with the Jets briefly before heading north to the CFL. Here’s a mini-scouting report on him before the draft last year and here’s his bio with the Calgary Stampeders.

We haven’t talked about it much but OLB is actually a position that could use an upgrade at the back-end of the roster. We never really discuss it because DeMarcus Ware, Greg Ellis and Anthony Spencer represent a real strength on the roster. But behind them we have Justin Rogers who looks to be nothing more than a special teams guy. Tearrius George will be battling it out with Rogers, 6th-round pick Erik Walden (unless they move him inside) and UDFA Darrell Robertson for that spot. (Yes, Robertson is a pet cat of mine since he’s from Georgia Tech).  The reason I bring all this up is because George got some rave reviews from the media and Wade Phillips specifically mentioned him in the press conference. Keep an eye on the kid.

Wade Phillips likes the current WR crew even though they admit they wanted a veteran upgrade. The odds of a trade for a frontline caliber WR seem slim now so it looks like we’ll go to battle with the guys we got. Terry Glenn is a question mark, even Wade Phillips admitted as much, although WR’s coach Ray Sherman says he expects Glenn to fully participate in the first camp with veterans in June. Isaiah Stanback is another mystery man at the position that could influence the makeup of the roster and Danny Amendola is making his play to shake up the receiving corps. The spots behind Terrell Owens and Patrick Crayton (and Glenn if healthy) should be one of the best camp battles we have.

Bobby Carpenter is going to be given another opportunity to claim a role that actually gets him on the field on defense, this time backing up “Mo” linebacker Zach Thomas. The former first-round pick has moved around among all the linebacker positions on the roster and this could be his final chance to make his mark as a Cowboys. The hope is that he can utilize his ability to run and chase down the ball to better effect playing the "Mo".

Dave Campo might not have been a favorite as a Cowboys head coach but he is receiving solid reviews for his work with the secondary so far. His upbeat, hands-on teaching style is going over well and might just be part of the remedy for a secondary that has picked on frequently over the last couple of years. Of course, adding talent like Pacman Jones, Mike Jenkins and Orlando Scandrick doesn’t hurt, but let’s hope that Campo can “coach ‘em up” as the saying goes.

Richard Bartel could be the guy who turns into the long-term backup for Tony Romo. There was plenty of chatter about drafting a QB in the late rounds or signing a vet that has been cut from another team but the Cowboys staff seems to be satisfied with the progress Bartel has made. My lasting impression of Bartel comes from training camp last year where the strong-armed QB was determined to show off that arm by chucking up deep balls on regular basis. Maybe a year in meetings and watching Romo and Brad Johnson have showed the kid there’s more to being a QB than hitting the deep bomb. He’s also dropped a lot of weight and gotten himself in NFL-shape, perhaps the Cowboys already have their future backup QB on the roster.

Sure it was only a few practices with rookies and first-year players who haven’t played a lot, and there were no pads or hitting which can change everything in terms of performance, but we finally got a look at some of the potential 2008 Cowboys roster in real practices. It feels good, just one more step towards the 2008 season and a hoped-for run at the Super Bowl.

Your impressions from the last couple of days?

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