I'm back in the BTB bat cave after watching seven camp sessions. I may return for the final three days, work schedule permittng, but in the meantime, I'm going to begin my recap with a summary of what I don't know.
How good is the interior run defense?
The downside of not seeing full tacklng run drills is that we can't be sure how effective the vital interior triangle of the nose tackle and the two inside linebackers are playing? Scientific Football's '08 run stopping metrics produced a mixed set of results. Nose tackle Jay Ratlff had the best success metrics of any big name NT but the two guys behind him fared poorly.
Zach Thomas and Bradie James both had YPAs over 7.0 (Ratlff's was 4.8) The other front seven starters were posting numbers in the 4s and Demarcus Ware's was a rock-solid 3.8. The soft target for the Dallas scheme was right up the gut.
Thus far, I see promise, but nothing definite. Keith Brooking is big, active and looks very comfortable in the ILB spot where he excelled for Wade Phillips in Atlanta. He has demonstrated the range to track Martellus Bennett into the flats and down the seam. He's got the size to take on guards that the smaller Thomas lacks. Ditto for James, who looks more active than in years past. New strong safety Gerald Sensabaugh has been very aggressive filling on run plays and shows a willingness to "stick his nose in."
That said, it's not possible to tell if these guys can consistently stop interior runs close to the line of scrimmage or farther up the field, the problem last year's team faced.
How Good is the Receiving Corps?
I see a lot more attention to detail in the receiving drills this year. Because the first five players on the depth chart -- Wiliams, Crayton, Austin, Hurd and Stanback -- are all returning veterans, I see a lot more emphasis on evolving and refining the passing tree. Ray Sherman's guys are working a lot more on combination routes. patterns rarely seen at Oxnard last year.
To my eyes, Williams looks set. The other four look smoother than in year's past. But what does that mean?
How good is the Pass Blocking?
Wade Phillips has blitzed the offensive line heavily from day one. His logic makes sense to me: Dallas plays in the same division as Philadelphia and New York, who start blitzing you the Monday before the game. If his o-line can't handle the rush in practice, they won't get far within the division.
I've seen so-so results. The starters have handled the rush for the most part, but leaks occur, especially up the middle on delayed blitzes.
Does this mean the Dallas pass rush is really good, or that the line needs more work?
We'll know in just under two weeks, when the Cowboys face the Titans. I fully expect people to micro analyze and probably over-analyze the Raiders matchup this Thursday, but I'll be happy to get past that game with good health. The starters will only play two series or so, so there's nothing conclusive to gather from that.
Tennessee will tell. The starters will play close to a half that game. What's more, the Titans strengths match up against the Cowboys question marks. Tennessee runs the ball very well. If the Cowboys can't handle the run, Chris Johnson will expose them. The Titans sport a young, talented secondary. They played soft-serve vanilla 8-yards off the ball coverage against T.O. and the BIlls last night.
That's not Jeff Fisher's style. When his guys hit Cowboys stadium, I expect to see them back in press mode. F the Dallas WRs are wanting, these guys will find them out.
How does this team compare to last year's squad and the 13-win '07 bunch? We should know in another eleven days.