The shoulder pads and shorts were worn this afternoon, as the Cowboys crept more into their punt coverage work. They went back to working more on fundamentals and on tightening up the passing game. Dallas worked more on passing game matchups, drilling a lot of 6-on-7, where Tony Romo, Jon Kitna, and Stephen McGee worked the skill position guys against the three back seven units. The Cowboys session finished with the starting offense and the starting defense working on mid-field passing drills.
This morning, most of these plays tested the offense in 3rd down situations. This afternoon, the emphasis switched to 1st down plays, runs and passes. Little changed from this morning. Most of the players carried over their performances; the good players doing well, the struggling players continuing to struggle. Some key second year players continued to impress, and give the team some depth and flexibility at key roles (more on them later).
As I've reported before, Joe DeCamillis started his coverage work on spacing, and placement. Next, his guys worked on their drops. Yesterday, they worked on their releases and keeping lane discipline on their downfield runs.
Today, DeCamillis began where yesterday's drills left off. His coverage guys worked on the end of the play. He had a gunner race past the return man and the following three or four men worked on surrounding and taking down the returner.
Next, DeCamillis put the whole package together. For the first time, he had his coverage team practice the entire coverage play. The punt team worked on punt return teams, with two blockers on each edge gunner. The coverage guys translated their drills well to live play, pinning the returners to the sideline and holding the them to short gains. As usual, the caveats apply. Tackling was not allowed, so it's hard to get a full reading on how they might tackle. We'll know when the real games start.
The David Buehler followers will be happy to know that we have some news to report. DeCamillis finished his portion of the practice with a field goal drill. To my eyes, Buehler was 3 of 4 on his attempts, with the miss hitting the right upright. His last attempt was good from 48, with yards to spare.
Dallas then split up for positional work before reuniting the offense for a lot of six-against-air, where the receivers worked on plays for the middle of the field. All of them put maximum pressure on the secondary, sending all five potential targets out on routes.
At the same time, the base and nickel back sevens worked more on pattern recognition and coverage responsibility.
When the two units merged for 6-on-7 drills, backup tight end John Phillips drew the biggest "oohs" from the crowd for two circus catches. The first and most impressive was a one-handed snag up the left sideline against tight Keith Brooking coverage. Hurry back, Martellus. Your absence has opened the door for Phillips to impress and he's run through it at full speed.
On the opposite half, the line started it's one-on-one pass blocking drills. Victor Butler had one of his better stretches of the camp, as he challenged Marc Colombo with two hard outside rushes; Colombo had to scramble to contain them.
The sobering story from this initial drill was the 2nd units continued struggles. Pat McQuistan was pushed deep into the pocket on his reps, a disappointing result for a player who is allegedly one of the strongest on the roster. Marcus Spears twice schooled Travis Bright, swimming past the backup C while rushing from a DT spot. Junior Siavii jacked the overmatched Phil Costa with a bull rush. ( I would say more but I don't want to induce too many Cory Proctor flashbacks with you readers tonight.)
The one exception was Robert Brewster, who had a second settled practice. He again found his bearings on the right side, and can now stalemate all the backups, in drills and in the 11-on-11 scrimmages. He earned a few more reps on the left side in this drill, proving his work this morning wasn't just a fluke,to cover for Alex Barron. I know the coaches don't want to overwhelm Brewster, but I wonder if he might get some reps inside if he can maintain today's level at tackle. This team desperately needs better guard play behind the starters.
Midway through the drill Hudson Houck and Paul Pasqualoni upped the rush ante, sending two man twists and stunts at different areas of the line. Sometimes a tackle and end would rush. On others, two tackles would challenge a guard and the center and on down the line. The blockers actually performed better in tandem then they did individually.
The final 11-on-11 was sloppy. The first unit lacked its previous zip, and Romo had a couple of plays which would have been coverage sacks. This was a step backwards from the sharpness this unit showed this morning and yesterday afternoon. Jason Garrett started calling more bootlegs and rollouts for his third unit, hoping to buy some time for Stephen McGee, who is an unknown because his tackles have been turnstiles. The rollouts did get McGee some time, but he had few open targets in his limited throwing windows and he threw the ball away at least three times.
I wonder if he'll take some of Jon Kitna's snaps with the 2nd offense, so the coaches can see him with decent protection. Will Barker and Sam Young were again overwhelmed; on one down against the 1st offense, Demarcus Ware was on McGee just an instant after he reached his drop point.
Two more practices tomorrow...