Now seems like a good time for some player evaluations based on the first week of training camp practices. I'm going to concentrate mainly on the backups and the bubble players, the starters are pretty much set and evaluating them against these practices is not as useful as relying on recent regular-season play from the past couple of years. Although I will briefly touch on some for the sake of a full evaluation.
For example, both Martellus Bennett and Jason Witten have been omnipresent during practices. Tight end is definitely one position that we won't have to worry about. Also, Tony Romo has been his normal self. He's throwing well for the most part and he's continuing to hit the first-read if open or checking down to the second or third options when needed. The leadership question is not something I can truly evaluate from these practices because I can't hear what's being said on the field and these aren't game-like conditions. His connection with Roy has been discussed to death in many places, but suffice it to say when Romo sees Roy open, he throws it to him, if Roy is not the first-read or if he's covered, Romo is spreading the ball around.
As for Roy himself, he's doing his job just like one would expect. He's not the dominant force at camp that Terrell Owens was, but that doesn't mean when the real games finally arrive that he won't be a force and he is definitely helping other guys get open as discussed in this practice report. Patrick Crayton has been what we've come to expect, solid and dependable.
Much more after the jump.
Both Felix Jones and Tashard Choice have looked very good, with Choice especially standing out by showing his uncanny ability to negotiate traffic and gain yards. Marion Barber is at a disadvantage in camp because the nature of his game is physical contact and punishing tacklers while picking up extra-yards. That is not on display during these sessions but I don't think Cowboys fans are worried about MB3 for the regular season.
The starting o-line has progressed nicely with the return of Kyle Kosier and despite the defense winning more of the camp days than the offense, there haven't been a lot of noticeable jailbreak rushes on the QB's. The last couple of practices have had the offense on the move; this bodes well for the line. It's hard to evaluate all of the line while still watching the skill positions that are handling the ball, but I think they're doing fine for the moment.
On defense, Jay Ratliff and DeMarcus Ware have really stood out but I think that was to be expected. Anthony Spencer had been quiet until the past couple of practices where I've noticed his activity picking up. Keith Brooking has yet to show a lot, but I'm willing to give him some time to familiarize himself with the Cowboys defense, so the last weeks of camp and whatever time he plays in pre-season will be more instructive. Mike Jenkins has been solid, I like what I've seen from him, ditto Orlando Scandrick. The guy I wanted to see in the secondary was Gerald Sensabaugh and so far I'm impressed. He has show a nice ability to diagnose runs, screens and short passes and make his way through the blocking to get in on the plays. There hasn't been a lot of action in the deep middle so that would lead me to believe that he and Ken Hamlin are doing well in coverage.
With all that out of the way, let's talk about the other players.
QB - I don't think Jon Kitna has had that strong of a camp so far. He's had three or four plays where there have been timing issues in the backfield where he's collided or almost collided with other offensive players on handoffs, guys in motion or guys pulling for blocks. This is probably just an issue of him getting familiar with the timing of the Cowboys offense. In some of the 7-on-7's I think he's missed some open reads. Don't panic though, he's light years ahead of Brad Johnson and he has the arm-strength to threaten teams deep. I suspect as time goes along he'll get more comfortable. Stephen McGee is exactly what you'd expect, a young QB that has a long way to go before being ready for real NFL action.
RB - We already have our three running backs. At FB, it's probably going to be Deon Anderson. With the 2-TE set being used more and more by the Cowboys, this position has less emphasis.
TE - John Phillips is by far the best backup TE we have at camp (I'm considering Bennett a co-starter). Coming out of college he kind of had the rep as a blocker, but he can catch the ball and has been showing the ability to get open. I don't think there's a real competition between him and Rodney Hannah, at this point its Phillips hands down.
WR - Both Miles Austin and Sam Hurd started off slow but in the last couple of practices have really come on. Especially Hurd, who lacks some of the "star" abilities you normally associate with a receiver but he gets open and makes catches. He's got sure-hands and I think he has locked down that 4th receiver spot. Austin hasn't been special yet, but he is making good progress in this camp and his abilities over the past couple of days have started to show. Isaiah Stanback had not blossomed in this camp, he's had some good days but other days he dropped some passes. Now, with his injury, he's got some work to do. Why? Because both Mike Jefferson and Willie Reid have turned in very solid performances. Two years ago in San Antonio, Jefferson would get open all the time but couldn't catch anything. Now, he's showing good hands and making plays. Willie Reid, in the past couple of practices, has started to turn it on and the Cowboys could use him in the return game on special teams. I see a good battle coming on. The only other receiver to stand out is Kevin Ogletree, who has made some nice plays, so I'll throw him in the mix.
OL - Nobody new is really standing out. If I had to guess right now, it would be Doug Free, Montrae Holland, Cory Procter and Pat McQuistan as backups. I'm not a fan of McQ and was hoping that Robert Brewster would replace him, but since he's out I think its McQ by default. At guard, I'm pretty sure it will be Holland and Free will definitely be the other backup tackle. They've given Holland a few reps at center, but not a lot and not enough to convince me they are going to consider him as the legitimate backup center, meaning they have to keep Procter again. None of the other OL backups have stood out so far.
DE - At defensive end, Marcus Dixon has made a few plays as has relatively unknown Derreck Robinson. Is it enough to unseat either Bown or Hatcher? No way. And considering they are using Bowen as one of the down linemen in the nickel formation, I think the Cowboys feel secure with Olshansky, Spears, Bowen and Hatcher. I wouldn't say any of these guys have had spectacular camps, except maybe Bowen who has done some good things, but they are solid.
NT - Still a weakness behind the Rat. Neither Junior Siavii nor Jonas Seawright has been impressive. One of them will get the backup position by default. Right now, Siavii is getting the majority of the second-team reps so I suspect it will be him.
OLB - This is a position where I have been impressed with some of the backups. Victor Butler has especially caught my eye, along with Steve Octavien. Butler has shown he can rush the passer and has put himself above the rest of the guys in that respect. I'm looking forward to seeing him play in pre-season games. I never even thought about Octavien before this camp, I figured he was your typical camp body, but so far, the kid has made plays. If he keeps it up, he may have a real shot at sticking around. Less impressive so far has been Brandon Williams. He had a good practice the other day, but has been overshadowed by the other two guys mentioned above.
ILB - Bobby Carpenter is doing his usual thing, and that's having a good camp. Last year in Oxnard, the guy made a ton of plays but never saw the field in the regular season. Again in this camp, he's been very active and has been the cover linebacker in the nickel. I don't think there's any chance he won't be on the roster come September and from what I can tell they plan to play him. I guess we'll just have to wait and see what happens. I had high hopes for Jason Williams but so far it's been slow going. He hasn't really showed up in a significant way. Maybe he's a gamer, or maybe he's just adjusting to a new defensive role, or adjusting to the pro game. Whatever the case, he hasn't stood out so far. Stephen Hodge needs to get healthy and get on the field before we can even begin to evaluate him. Matt Stewart and Justin Rogers have been pretty much invisible, although Stewart is the backup long snapper, so that might help him. Also, as a caveat with a lot of these guys (not just the OLBs), we haven't seen them play in live-action special teams situations yet. That could change the evaluation on a lot of these guys because that is where they'll mainly contribute. So a couple of pre-season games could make these early evaluations irrelevant.
CB - Unfortunately, the backup CBs have been getting toasted regularly in camp. Mike Mickens has not been the steal of the Cowboys draft that many fans hoped for. His lack of recovery speed is an issue, he hasn't been reading the routes all that well and just hasn't made many plays. Courtney Brown has been roasted more than a pack of hotdogs at a Boy Scout camp out. I have no confidence that we could rely on him. The guy I liked early in camp was Michael Hawkins, he made plays but his injury has slowed down that progress, he needs to get back out there and try to claim a spot.
S - I like what Michael Hamlin has showed so far. He still needs to work on knowing the defensive coverages and reacting quicker to guys coming into his zone, but he shows nice athletic ability and he gets his hands on the ball, and he can catch it when he does. If I had to evaluate his future based on 5-6 practices, I would say it's bright. DeAngelo Smith hasn't really caught my eye yet so I can't really say much about him. Pat Watkins has done nothing in camp to change my opinion, he just doesn't seem to live up to his physical gifts. Alan Ball hasn't stood out. Jerome Carter is a big kid, in his pads he almost looks like a linebacker. He hasn't made a lot of plays yet so I can't put too much confidence in him. If I had to guess, it's a battle between Smith, Watkins and Ball for the fourth spot behind Hamlin, Sensabaugh and Hamlin.
That's what I can tell you so far, but based on six training camp practices, it's by no means a set-in-stone evaluation. Also, without film to watch, you can miss a lot of things. For example, if you're watching the ball on most plays, you really don't see what the safeties, or the other corners are doing in coverage. Admittedly, I consider these evaluations to be somewhat incomplete, but it's the best I can do.
If I've missed anybody or you have questions, I'll try to answer them. There's another practice this afternoon so come back for that practice report.