The Cowboys followed their full-pads morning workout with a slow-starting shoulder pads and shorts session, which gave us the most one-on-one action of this young training camp. Rotations began along the defensive line, and the incredible Dez Bryant continued to dazzle, which veteran Sam Hurd worked though a ragged practice which left him helmet-less and frustrated.
The session began with an extended workout on punt coverage skills. Joe DeCamillis built on the mornings special teams work by again breaking his units into two groups. The interior linemen worked on their releases and lane discipline while the gunners worked through a strange drill which used the mini ring the offensive linemen used on Saturday.
John Garrett had the ring rolled to the near sideline, and then placed a large red ring next to it. Gunners had to start inside the ring, release laterally under the ropes, maintaining low pad level, and then following the arc of the ring up the field. The obstacles mimicked the break from a jam and the proper release a gunner needs to take. Garrett twice stopped the exercise to advise the participants to keep their eyes up while executing the drill. Garrett clearly wanted them to put their minds into game situations.
DeCamillis then put the field goal unit on the field, and David Buehler got some target practice at a mini-upright, a narrow post about 60% the width of a real goal post. My vantage point did not allow me to see Buehler's accuracy, but the narrowness of the post made his kicks irrelevant. The drill emphasized proper kick blocking, and there were no leaks today.
The offense and defense then broke into units. Brett Maxie and Dave Campo borrowed multi-color balaclavas to school their men on route recognition and responsibilities. Half the DBs would simulate skill position players, with some wearing blue tops as running backs, yellow tops as tight ends and red tops as receivers. They would then run designated route combos, and the back four would have to sort out the combinations and attack the proper target.
On the opposite end of the field, the quarterbacks and skill position players worked on pass patterns from the 11 and 12 sets.
In the next session, the Cowboys gave the fans a split-screen drill, with the receivers and defensive back seven going in a 6 on 7 pass drill while the offensive and defensive linemen simultaneously went one-on-one in a pass rush drill on the opposite end of the field. The proper numbers were actually one-on-five. The entire offensive line would set and one rusher, an outside linebacker, an end or a nose tackle, would try to beat his blocker upfield.
Here are some brief notes from that drill:
- Alex Barron held his own against Demarcus Ware. He only got a couple of reps and more would have been welcome, but every player got at most two or three chances to make an impression. A net plus for the former Ram.
- Sam Young is having trouble containing hard pressure around the outside. Victor Butler slipped him here.
- Marcus Dixon worked on the left side in the afternoon, behind Jason Hatcher. He gave Pat McQuistan and ole move on his way into the pocket.
- Sean Lissemore worked inside and bulled Phil Costa deep into the pocket.
- LG Mike Tepper flattened his feet on one rush and was dumped on his backside by Stephen Bowen. He took Hudson Houck's advice, kept his anchor foot back and stopped a couple more bull rushes cold.
The team finished the day by assembling for an 11-on-11 drill. The units rotated 1st O versus 2nd D and the offense dominated. When the 1st D took on the lesser offensive units, the backup QBs were swamped by pressure. Jon Kitna teed up the Dez Bryant moment when he lobbed a deep ball into coverage up the left sideline. Bryant was pushed, but still managed to leap high, bobble the ball, trap it and hold it as he fell onto the sideline. I can't say if the catch would have stood in a real game ( I think he landed out of bounds) but Bryant's body control and sticky hands are amazing.
What will he do tomorrow?
-- A nod to Mr. Steady: Mat McBriar in the punt coverage drill -- one shank. Every other kick went between 42 and 52 yards and landed withing five yards of the sideline, pinning the returner there.
-- It's early, but I wonder if Akwasi Owusu-Ansah might be a PUP or IR candidate? He ran some sprints with the trainer in the middle of practice and looked sluggish. He didn't look like a guy close to day-to-day. It's only speculation on my point, but he didn't seem pain free. He may be far, far behind before he's back to full speed. And he misses the next couple of weeks, he's a strong candidate for I.R. This happened to Marcus Dixon in '08. He was making a move and injured a foot just before the first preseason game. Playing him in the late games risked exposing him on waivers, so the Cowboys shut him down. AOA may be headed for a redshirt '10.
-- The tight ends look faster to me. Jason Witten has always been the magical man, a guy who gets separation even though he runs like he has a pebble in one of his cleats. Today, he was blasting past linebackers. Witten ran a shallow cross in the 7-on-7 that left Bradie James gasping in his exhaust.
Witten had company. John Phillips showed some real zip getting up the seam, as did Scott Sicko. I don't know if my perception is off or the tight ends worked on their explosive speed. Maybe they're just healthy, before blocking starts to sap their legs. Whatever the case, I hope they maintain their zip.
-- The Cowboys safeties show impressive speed as a group. They participate in man-to-man coverage drills with the corners and there is no noticeable dropoff in speed when the safeties run the drills. This might explain the tigher passing windows we've seen the first two days.
-- Mr. BDAO (Bad Day at the Office); backup linebacker Leon Williams. He was frequently beaten on crossing routes. He appears to have stiff hips and loses a lot of ground when his man makes a cut. Williams was burned even when he provided good coverage; Williams had Jason Witten's inside shoulder covered on a seam route, so Tony Romo zoomed the ball to Witten's outside shoulder. The ball whistled past Williams' earhole and into Witten's hands for a huge gain. Shake it off Leon, tomorrow is another day.
-- Mr. Bubble -- Pat McQuistan was steamrolled by Junior Siavii on a toss play late in the 11-on-11. McQuistan is hardly a rookie, so it's distressing to see him get beaten this way. His bubble is starting to wobble a bit more.
-- Mr. Bubble II -- The Cowboys had a few offsides today, but three of the five total from the two practices were committed by Curtis Johnson, who appears to be guessing the snap count in an attempt to get a burst off the ball. He's feeling the pressure.
-- Mr. Bubble III -- Sam Hurd dropped a ball in the late drill and went into a funk. He knows he's one step down the depth chart with Dez Bryant's arrival, and he's taking any mistake especially hard.
Miles Austin also had a couple of drops this afternoon, but I doubt anybody will remember those, unless Austin starts to make them a habit.
-- Welcome to the healthy: Jason Williams is finally getting some reps against the 1st team offense and is starting to show up around the football. In the late drill, the Cowboys lined up Jason Witten as an H-back left, next to John Phillips, ran a bootleg right and dragged Witten underneath the line into the right flat. Williams sniffed out the route immediately and jumped Witten as he snagged the ball, stopping the pass for a minimal gain.
-- chicken or egg? Marcus Spears rushed hard this afternoon, but it's not clear how much is on him and how much is down to his competition; he beat rookie Sam Young a couple of times. Young is off to a stumbling start. Hard rushes around the outside are getting past him.
-- Finally, keep this in mind when you read other reports on the 11-on-11s. The 1s never squared off. The 1st offense got the 2nd defense and vice versa.
Your unintentionally comedic moment of the day
The team ended the practice with a team wind sprint -- two circuits from one sideline and back. It was amusing to watch the linemen, especially Montrae Holland, fall farther and farther behind the others. Montrae is a guard. He doesn't do sprints. That's for track and field folks.