The VRR: A Dallas Cowboys Mini-Camp Preview

OTAs are over. Now, it's time for the mandatory stuff. Although the players are not wearing pads during this weekend's mini-camp, this is their last opportunity to learn all they can as a team before training camp kicks off July 23 at the Alamodome.

After this weekend's mini-camp, the rookies will hang around to get acclimated to all that is Valley Ranch. Of course, many folks will be tuning in on how much rookie WR Dez Bryant participates in this mini-camp. Some reports say he's questionable, and that he might miss the mini-camp all together.

Bryant is out for today's practice, and working with the team trainers.

The Cowboys will have their rookies working out at the team’s complex into mid-July and that will be an opportunity to monitor him [Bryant] and make certain he is doing everything necessary to rehabilitate. No need to rush him out on the field for a look this weekend.

More VRR after the jump.

The Cowboys may not want to mess with possibly furthering Bryant's hamstring injury, so exactly how much he will be able to participate is up in the air for now.

Considering how important it is for Bryant to be healthy and ready to go at full speed at the start of training camp, it would not be a surprise if the Cowboys continue to limit his activities during this weekend's minicamp.

Keith Brooking and Jay Ratliff are back. And it sounds as if the Cowboys coaches are all fired up today!

Keep up with what's going on during practice live from the guys at ESPN Dallas and on the live Twitterfeed from the crew at DC.com.

Here's how the Cowboys schedule looks for the summer.

Minicamp
When: Today through Sunday
Where: Valley Ranch practice facility, Irving
Training camp
At Alamodome
When: July 23-Aug. 6
At Oxnard, Calif.
When: Aug. 14-27
Openers
Preseason: Aug. 8 vs. Bengals, Hall of Fame Game @Canton, Ohio
Regular season: Sept. 12 @Redskins

Free safety will remain a position that many will watch. The team's confidence in Alan Ball has yet to wane.

"I know he's a football player," said secondary coach Dave Campo, referring to Ball's toughness and savvy.

"That's 90 percent of it in my mind. I know the guy loves to play the game. He's smart, he's going to be where he's supposed to be, he's picking up everything, he's very physical, he's kind of a ballhawk and he's handling everything mentally."

"As far as I'm concerned, I feel very good about him."

Meanwhile, Ken Hamlin tried out yesterday with the Baltimore Ravens.

"I thought it went well," Hamlin said. "I was running around playing football. I'd like to be a part of this team. It's a good opportunity."

Many eyes also will be on Stephen McGee, who has already shown to have progressed from this point last offseason.

He'll start getting that experience again at this weekend's minicamp, next month's training camp and an unusually long preseason (the Cowboys added a fifth Hall of Fame game in Canton, Ohio, against the Cincinnati Bengals).

"It's a great opportunity for me to kind of lead the huddle and get everybody right," McGee says.

The Cowboys' brass will be watching closely. They want to see steady progression, proof that McGee can eventually become Tony Romo's primary backup. Right now it's 37-year-old Jon Kitna. He's got four wise sounding boards: Romo, Kitna, Garrett, and Wilson have a combined 52 seasons of NFL quarterback experience.

Matt Mosely is targeting Sean Lee as one player to watch this camp.

I also want to take a long look at rookie linebacker Sean Lee. During my trip to Philly this week, several Penn State alums informed me that Lee was "the real deal." Jeff McLane of the Inquirer insists that Lee will have a brilliant NFL career. We'll keep a close eye on him during team drills. I know the offensive linemen are starting to get a little annoyed with him because he's so gung-ho.

Alex Barron has been lining up as the second team left tackle during OTAs. This weekend's mini-camp gives him more opportunities to learn from the Cowboys OL vets.

"I used to watch Nate Newton, Larry Allen, Erik Williams," Barron said. "They were good — really good."

Now he comes to a team that has five veteran players entrenched as starters; since his arrival, Barron has been playing left tackle with the second-team offensive line.

"That helps," he said of coming to a team with such a veteran offensive line. "I can learn a lot from them. They’ve been together here, and they know what’s going on, what is expected.

"When you’re not on the field, you learn by getting in mental reps. That’s the best way to learn, and you can’t have better guys to learn from than these guys."

OL coach Hudson Houck is working on adjusting some of Barron's fundamentals. Barron seems to be responding well.

Penalties were Barron's hallmark during five seasons with the Rams. He had 63 penalties in 76 games. Houck asked Barron to make fundamental changes in his game. Barron embraced the adjustments, Houck said.

``He's been doing exactly what we're asking him to do,'' Houck said. ``And I think he's trying to change some of the things I thought were bad habits.''

Hat tip to lonewolfz28 for the FanShot.

Lots of yardage yielding little in complementary scoring. Correcting red zone insufficiencies will be a huge focus for the offense this summer.

Dallas averaged 399.4 total yards last season, but it ranked 14th in points (22.6). The disparity was best illustrated in a 20-17 December loss to San Diego in which the Cowboys gained 347 yards but were limited to a field goal over drives that included first downs at the Chargers' 16-, 3-, and 27-yard lines. During the middle possession, San Diego stuffed Marion Barber three times, including on fourth-and-goal.

"We have to eliminate the negative plays we had," offensive coordinator Jason Garrett said. "A number of times we got into the red zone, and then we got ourselves back out of the red zone by a penalty or a minus play."

Now the offense can't be held responsible for all the scoring, can it? A focus on defense is creating more turnovers, which should help translate into a higher point potential.

In the last three NFL seasons, a team that gets a score on defen[se] is 181-64. That's the winning percentage (.739) of a 12-4 team.

In this span, Pittsburgh and Tennessee are a league-best 8-0 when getting a defensive score. They are followed by Arizona (7-0), the New York Giants (10-1), Indianapolis (8-1) and New England (8-1).

I trust that everybody has checked out SB Nation Dallas-Ft. Worth. Neato torpedo, right!?! It's good to see Bob Sturm has a featured spot. His piece on the Cowboys proves that Martellus Bennett was an integral part to the "Romo-friendly" offense.

Based on the numbers from ProFootballFocus.com we see that of the 1247 snaps that the Cowboys took last season, Jason Witten took 99% of the snaps. Roy Williams 73%, Miles Austin 69% (remember his limited role in the first 4 weeks), Patrick Crayton 50%, Sam Hurd 9%, and Kevin Ogletree 5% of the snaps.

Martellus Bennett, whose numbers are very important – because when he is on the field, a WR must step off it – was on the field 46% of the time last year because of his ability to run block (Obviously not his ability to make catches last season). And the young blocking TE was out there 19% of the time, demonstrating their love for power football.

What's Martellus Bennett going to do after camp breaks each day? He's hosting a 3-on-3 youth basketball tournament.

Marty B will also be on hand to present the championship teams with an autographed basketball as well as to present trophies. He won't be the only star there however. Bennett will be joined by teammate Felix Jones and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' Michael Bennett. Both will be on hand to sign autographs.

While Marion Barber has been slimming down, Felix Jones has added even more strength and muscle to his frame.

"That's just how it works out sometimes," said the third-year back, who was jokingly asked if he and Barber are switching roles, making Jones the new short-yardage back.

"I'm not going to say all of that. It almost just happened the way it did. I was in the weight room working out and all of sudden, I started seeing more muscles."

However, Jones was quick to point out that stronger doesn't mean slower.

"No, absolutely not," said Jones, who will likely play this season around 225 pounds. "I can't have that. I'm going to keep (the speed)."

Tequila shooters anyone? Emmitt Smith has a whole barrel now, becoming the first person to buy one of Herradura Double Barrel Reposado.

As a part of its relationship with Smith, Tequila Herradura was a platinum sponsor of the Emmitt Smith Celebrity Invitational golf tournament, held May 14-15 at TPC Craig Ranch in McKinney, Texas, according to a news release from Casa Herradura.

For $10,000, tequila connoisseurs can buy a barrel of the blue agave tequila, which yields about 240 bottles. The tequila is aged in toasted oak barrels for 11 months, which produces a cinnamon and oak aroma, according to the release.

Remember that Notre Dame FB Asaph Schwapp that spent camp with the Cowboys? "Ninja star" ring a bell? Well, Schwapp is breaking camp with the UFL's Hartford Colonials.

While coach and general manager Chris Palmer knew about Schwapp's interest before last month's tryout camp in Berlin, he wasn't sure what to expect. What he saw was an athletic, 6-foot, 250-pound player with good hands and surprising speed.

Palmer talked to coaches in Dallas who said Schwapp was impressive in training camp, but was tangled in a numbers game. Notre Dame coaches raved about his work ethic, leadership and blocking ability, but admitted he was underused.

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