Full pads returned, as expected, and the Cowboys used them to drill passing game matchups. The final eleven on eleven drill drill proceeded by two extensive 6-on-7 passing drills, where the offense and defense worked mostly on working the nickel defense against the 11 package offense, with one back and three receivers.
Yesterday, I mentioned that the chicken-egg question which appears as most camps progress regards familiarity. Is a player whose work slowly improves getting past the off-season rust, and truly improving, or is he merely becoming overly familiar with the moves of the player or players lining up across from him?
In the unit-versus-unit case, the results have oscillated from one to the other; in the early practices the defense was ahead, shutting off lanes and making pass completions difficult. The linebackers grabbed several picks in the opening weekend. Then, the offense surged ahead. On Monday and Tuesday, Tony Romo's first team was very good at handling blitzes, with Romo completing quick passes across the field to all his options.
The last couple of days have seen the matchups settle. Yesterday the positive plays skewed in the defense's favor, but only slightly so. Today's scrimmages resembled a heavyweight tussle, where the combatants exchanged heavy blows in the ring's center. The offense would win a play, then see the defense force an incompletion. Romo would respond with a toss, then have to check down on the subsequent down for a minimal game.
The offensive/defensive ledger finished roughly 50/50, which is about what you would expect from two quality units. All players on both units are capable of making plays and they did so this afternoon. I get the impression the Cowboys might like to start hitting players in different colored uniforms, and they still have a week to go before they prep for Cincinnati.
As usual, Joe DeCamillis' guys got first run of practice. Joe D continued this morning's work on kickoff coverage. We also got out first look at how D's guys will try to improve their so-so kickoff returns. Dez Bryant will get his reps as the primary returner. In front of him, Dallas will, if practice has any accuracy, work with non-wedges; today, the four linemen and an upman spread out in a five man group ahead of Bryant. When he fielded the kickoff they would move to the left or to the right and block. Never, however, did they join hands in pairs, as the rules allow. We'll have to see if this approach is carried into the games.
The offenses then ran a runs-only 9-on-9 drill against the rotating defenses. The early downs saw the first-team O-linemen work their pet plays. Kyle Kosier pulled on the power right counter and kicked out a linebacker, creating a huge running lane. On a subsequent play Marc Colombo pulled to lead a long toss right, his signature play and Dallas' best in '08. The 2nd line left-siders Alex Barron and Montrae Holland created big space on a toss left against the 2nd defense, but the interior linemen on this O-line had a lot of trouble generating a push when the 1st D rotated in.
Mr. 75% Rises to Perhaps 80%
The linemen then retired to the far sideline for drills, leaving the middle of the field for an extended 6-on-7 drill. Here the red-light/green-light nature of the session emerged. Orlando Scandrick made a stop on Jason Witten before Witten ripped the middle of the defensive secondary two plays later. Jason Williams smothered Tashard Choice on the next play but Kevin Ogletree got behind Danny McCray on a deep post.
Second-year LB Jason Williams intrigued. I've called him Mr. 75%, because he on top of roughly three quarters of his plays, but was suffering brain freezes on every fourth play or so. Today, he was targeted on several plays and raised the ratio. He's still getting beaten, but not by much, and is breaking up passes and making instant, smothering stops on others. I still think the team may have some reservations about playing him on every down but Williams looks far more comfortable, in the base and in the nickel sets.
The final 11-on-11 was another split decision and the results often depended on which units took the field. The first team defense overwhelmed the 3rd team units, but had balanced results against the first offense. Marion Barber ripped a long run on a counter to Colombo's side but Marcus Spears stuffed a draw on the next play and the quietly impressive Orlando Scandrick blew up a flanker screen for Miles Austin.
These guys are getting a bit too familiar with each other. On to Friday.
-- The Cowboys worked again on red zone passes this afternoon. A moving pocket will be part of Dallas' approach, as will mis-direction. The Cowboys have practiced a lot of bootlegs and rollouts this week, in addition to their gaggle of screen passes and down-the-field throws.
-- Hands up: The linebackers' many interceptions this summer are no accident; Reggie Herring has drilled his guys every day on catching passes. Not knocking them down. Not getting near the back to discourage throws. The Cowboys LBs work every session on putting both hands on the ball and hanging on. Some of these guys are getting pretty good at snagging hard passes. Some could probably pull Mike Vrabel duty and be goal-line tight ends.
-- The NFL refs watched the practice and called "quiet flags." The sideline judges would raise their red flags if they saw a false start infraction. The offender would then have to take a down off. I counted three, though more penalties may have occurred. Doug Free, Montrae Holland and Marc Colombo each took a penalty.
-- Buehler watch: David Bueher got more reps with the zebras scoring and was perfect on six attempts. They were short attempts -- the longest was just 30 yards long.
-- The backups have wheels too: Scott Sicko showed some downfield moxie in the 6-on-7 drill, losing Gerald Sensabaugh with an out and up move. The veteran grabbed Sicko's jersey, but the rookie still made the grab down the right hashmark.
-- Witten beats everybody. 2008 was Camp T.O., where Terrell Owens schooled every corner who tried to stop him. 2010 is Camp Witten. No linebacker had slowed him down. Today The Senator again blew past Jason Williams and split the safeties while catching a Romo post. Williams is Dallas' fastest LB and Witten has regularly put him in the rear-view mirror.
-- Because it's time to make a move: backup CB Bryan McCann made a crowd-pleasing pick late in the 6-on-7. He's got several competitors in front of him and needs to carry plays like this over to the real games.