The beginning of the Dallas Cowboys practices at training camp should be re-named the Joe D. Show. The team was in shoulder pads and helmets today and started practice with an extensive session of kickoff returns. Manning the returns were AOA, Cletis Gordon and Teddy Williams. But the real show was special teams coach Joe DeCamillas' exhortations when things go wrong (or sometimes when they go right). On the first play of the session, coach wasn't happy with the effort and screamed "I need some f'ing juice!" without the PG-13 paraphrasing. That got the team's attention. Later, he found a problem with Jesse Holley's effort and when Holley tried to explain his side of things, coach promptly called out "Bulls--t"! On another play, Chris Gronkowski failed to execute, leading to Joe D. yelling "You gonna stand there or are you going to make some contact!" He does compliment the players when they do right, like on a play where Cletis Gordon made a good return, but nothing quite entertains like coach getting on a player. John Garrett also gets on the return guys, though not with quite the same gusto, but did spend time reminding them about carrying the ball "high and tight" and repeating a ball security mantra.
The team broke up into position groups for some light stretching before the team stretch. They immediately went back to position groups and worked on some of the standard drills. Because they were in shoulder pads we got treated to the defensive line and the linebackers popping the sled. Over on the offensive side of the field they were running skeleton plays, including some work on the Razorback formation. This would figure in the later sessions of 11-on-11. The QBs spent some time practicing rolling-out from pressure and throwing on the run while the defensive backs practiced one-hand catches and attacking the ball at the highest point. The outside linebackers got some work in on staying low with the "towel drill".
This morning's practice was much more focused on the run game than passing, including a session of 9-on-9 and even spilling over into the 11-on-11 where most of the plays were runs with a few passes mixed in to keep the defense honest.
First they did 9-on-9 with mismatched offense vs. defense. The first-team offense was usually going against the second and third-team defense, meaning first-team defense usually saw the backups on offense. One player who impressed in this session and later on in 11-on-11 is rookie linebacker Sean Lee. The kid has great instincts for diagnosing the play and shows great closing speed on the ball carrier. I counted three or four runs where Lee read the play and made a move to the ball before things really developed. On a couple of occasions he was picked up by a blocker, he could have done better in shedding the blocks, but the fact that he recognizes things so quickly this early is a promising sign.
The offense got kind of sloppy during the session with a couple of false starts, and the first-team defense was killing the backups on offense. The first-team offense did manage a few good plays where Leonard Davis and Marc Colombo blew open a big hole for Marion Barber, and the offense was also able to score some good runs on counter plays where the defense was over-pursuing. Linebacker Brandon Sharpe got a lot of reps and showed some pretty good ability at stuffing the run. The best collision was a mash-up between Deon Anderson and Sean Lee toward the end of the session.
The team proceeded to a long session of 11-on-11 that ran for the rest of practice. Again, the first units didn't face each other so sometimes it was hard to get a good read. For the most part, the defense was having the better of the day, but since you couldn't actually tackle, and the session was run-heavy, the offense was at a disadvantage because the backs couldn't break tackles. During this session linebacker Leon Williams had a couple of nice plays filling the hole on runs. Also, Sean Lee was around the ball plenty, closing out what was a good practice for him. The QBs were audibling if needed, and Romo got out of a run and hit Miles Austin on a nice pass beating Cletis Gordon. Jon Kitna led Jason Witten on a pass to the sidelines that he caught, then ended up flipping halfway over the fence into the fans, bringing cheers from the crowd.
Following that play, the offense ran the ball and Phil Costa did something to piss Jay Ratliff off, Rat took a mild swing at the rookie after the play and we got a little pushing and shoving between the two but the fracas quickly subsided. Kitna was having a tough day as he dropped a ball in the pocket and had some heavy pressure on a few other plays leading to poor passes. Terence Newman made a couple of nice plays when he read a screen and stopped it, then made a saving tackle on run that Herb Donaldson had broken to the outside. Miles Austin had one drop on an easy pass, but made up for it later by catching three passes toward the end of the session. On a series run by Stephen McGee, linebacker Jason Williams was able to stuff a few runs at the line of scrimmage.
During the second part of the 11-on-11 session the offense ran a few Razorback formations with Tashard Choice handling the QB chores. On one of them, Felix Jones motioned in from a wide position to take a handoff from Choice, he headed around the edge of the line then made a sweet cutback that left Leon Williams and Danny McCray flat-footed, Felix turned it upfield for a big gain. They ran the Razorback a couple of more times, one a direct run up the middle by Choice but Brandon Williams and Sean Lee were not fooled and snuffed it out, and on an outside run Choice found no room.
Other highlights included a Stephen Bowen sack on a stunt up the middle, Gronkowski stoning Bradie James on a blitz, Witten beating Lee and other linebackers on crossing patterns, and a couple of good counter runs by the offense. They tried a formation where Felix lined up wide and came back for a hitch pattern but Kitna overthrew the pass. Herb Donaldson found the turf on a run play where Bradie James broke free and planted the running back on a very aggressive hit for no-tackling rules. And on the last play of the practice, Gerald Sansabaugh made a nice interception on a poor pass from McGee.