It's only been three practices, but I see a lot of requests for a summary of what's happened so far. Being the type of blogger who likes to listen to his audience, I'll comply. I generally like to give practice reports as objectively as possible for two reasons. One, I want to give you guys the facts of what's going on at practice without a filter, hopefully it gives you a sense of being there and watching the practices for yourself. Two, I've found that if you post something like "Player X looked bad today" it leads to the inevitable extrapolation that the player sucks and that we're in big trouble. Remember, these are training camp practices, the Cowboys are trying new things out; they're putting players in positions to test their skill sets that may never be replicated in real games. Having said all that, here are some observations of mine through the first three practices.
The Cowboys, and Wade Phillips, have been true to their word and have changed things. They've changed up the drills they're running in the positional groups and to my eyes the drills are more attuned to real-game situations. Some of them I've mentioned, the fumble prevention drills, an extensive session on covering the bunch formation, the receivers are running the passing tree more than in the past, all kinds of things that are a little different from past training camps. The emphasis on special teams is clear by running those drills at the beginning of practice when the players are fresh and more likely to absorb new information.
Also, contrary to the meltdown I've seen in some media circles and on other Cowboys blogs and non-Cowboys blogs, the no-tackling rule is nothing new. Even when Parcells was here we rarely tackled, if at all, so it's not like much has changed in that respect. So when you see that kind of stuff, just ignore it.
Much more below.
OK, on to what a lot of people really want to hear, who is doing well and who is not. Remember to be a little skeptical of all this; for example, last year Bobby Carpenter had a great camp, he was making a lot of plays, but once the real season hit he was an afterthought. Also keep in mind, since we're practicing against ourselves, one player or unit doing well means that another player or unit was getting beat. So it's a glass half-full or half-empty scenario on all of this.
What I've liked so far:
The running game is performing well, in the 11-on-11's the line is opening holes and the backs are able to make quality runs for the most part. Tashard Choice looks as good as he did at the end of last year and seems particularly adept at wiggling through traffic. The Cowboys have stated they will depend on the running game more this season and they should, it's a strength of this team. Kyle Kosier is back and he looks to be in good form, this could help solidify an offensive line that had problems with consistency last year.
The play of Gerald Sensabaugh has been good. He's done well at diagnosing plays and then making the play by taking proper angles and working his way through traffic. I like what I'm seeing from him so far but I really haven't seen him tested deep over the middle that often.
I've thought of Brandon Williams and Victor Butler as twins since they were drafted close together and they play the same position. So far in camp, Butler has made the plays. He's had some good moments rushing the passer and just appears to be the more active of the two. In addition, little-known OLB Steve Octavien has been getting opportunities and has actually made a few plays. Who knows if he can sustain it, but he's been active so far.
Mike Hawkins is an unknown player who has made plays in camp. He's broken up a few passes, got an INT and generally stood out from the rest of the non-starting CBs. Will he make the team, probably not and this is the danger of reading too much into training camp practices, so take it for what it's worth.
Jay Ratliff and DeMarcus Ware are doing exactly what you'd expect; they have been the dominating force on the defensive front seven and have caused havoc regularly. The secondary has been solid, not giving up as many big plays as they have in the past. I can probably count on one hand the number of deep passes they've given up in 11-on-11's.
Tony Romo has looked like Romo. I haven't seen much that is different from his play in other training camps. But then again, I wasn't really worried about his play in camp.
What I've had problems with so far:
None of the WRs have had a great impact on camp so far. It's not just Roy, it's the unit as a whole. Now there are some mitigating factors. It could speak to an improved secondary that is giving better coverage. Also, with Jason Witten and Martellus Bennett roaming the field, they present great targets for the QB's. Factor in that our pass rush can be very effective, meaning the QBs are dumping the ball short on occasion, further limiting the WRs effectiveness. Don't panic. By this time next week one or two receivers may be tearing up practices. Give it a little time.
I still greatly worry about the backup o-line. I've been a little down on Pat McQuistan for the past couple of years and he's done nothing in this camp to change my view. A lot of the rest of the guys, especially in the interior, haven't stood out in my opinion. Holland is getting some chances and maybe he will prove to be a guy we can rely on for a backup, and Doug Free has been serviceable so far. It's not that their awful, but I loved to see a little more punch out of these guys.
It's early, but I'm still waiting on Jason Williams to make a few plays. I heard all about his athleticism but it hasn't shown up yet. But, give him some time, he's a rookie learning a new position and it's only been a few practices.
The defense as a whole is still not getting a lot of turnovers. Kudos to Romo and Kitna for not throwing INT's, but last year not getting turnovers on defense was a big problem and I was hoping to see more of it happening in camp. Of course, if it did start happening, everybody would start complaining about Romo and Kitna! You just can't win when practicing against yourself.
There are still too many false start penalties and there have been some very visible cases of holding along the line that aren't called but easy to see. Clean up the penalties guys, it's important.
Those are some things I've observed in practices. I'm always reticent to make these kinds of pronouncements because they tend to get extrapolated into bigger things and by next week the whole situation could be different. I've always tried to give training camp practice reports as objectively as possible so you, the reader, can make your own evaluations. But, since I was asked, I complied.
Hope you're enjoying BTB's coverage of training camp so far.