Dallas Cowboys Training Camp Observations: All About the Fundamentals

[Ed Note]: At yesterday's practice, I met up with our old friend here at BTB, Brandon Worley, to observe practice. Brandon put together this excellent article outlining his observations from practice. High-quality stuff as usual from him. It was good to see him and enjoy practice together, now enjoy his take on a Jason Garrett practice. - Dave [End Note]

I had the chance to visit training camp on Saturday in San Antonio, and for my first time being able to observe a Dallas Cowboys practice it was certainly an interesting experience. I never had the opportunity to attend a Bill Parcells or Wade Phillips camp, so I was not able to honestly compare what a Jason Garrett camp looked like compared to his predecessors'. From what I've read over the past eight years or so and from conversations with Dave -- as well as what we witnessed from Hard Knocks -- I can definitely pass along that Garrett is running a camp that is much, much different than what the Cowboys have traditionally done.

Not once did I ever observe anything resembling a "circus" atmosphere. I know there was some recent hubbub over a visit by Pee Wee Herman (I thought his appearance in San Antonio was fitting, but I have a feeling not many people get the reference) yet on this day the camp practice run by Garrett & Company was purely professional and entirely business-like. No Rowdy on the sidelines, no cheerleaders, no celebrities -- unless you count Charles Haley and Leon Lett -- and certainly no distractions on the field other than what was actually happening during practice.

More detailed conversations on camp after the jump...

With the Cowboys heading into the Blue & White scrimmage on Sunday, Garrett used the Saturday practice as a return to fundamentals. With the veterans not joining the team until about an hour into practice, the coaches used most of their allotted three hours on individual drills that focused on the basics. There were no one-on-one drills on this day, other than the team drills. It seems as though Garrett realizes that many of the issues with this team the past few years has been a lack of basic fundamentals throughout the roster and that the success of the depth players -- not just the stars -- is what is going to truly make a team successful.

From what I've been told, this endless focus on fundamental drills throughout practice is certainly something new. Garrett has his team going from individual drills to team drills and back again, an endless cycle of basics mixed with the implementation of the offense and defense his team will be running. It's a novel concept, as he's focused on ensuring his team never abandons their fundamentals even while working in his complex offensive and defensive systems.

 

**Jason Garrett certainly presents an air of confidence and authority on the practice field. Other than a playful shoving match with Leon Lett during the initial stretching drills, not once did I see Garrett doing anything but being intently focused on the action in front of him. During individual drills he would rotate between each station, standing back and watching and occasionally stepping in to offer encouragement. He presents an intense figure on the field and it's instantly apparent just who is in charge during these practices.

The entire affair was pure business. While overall this was a "boring" practice to attend, it was interesting to see how during such a basic practice as this one the coaches were able to maintain focus and professionalism for three hours. When players were on the sidelines or off to the side during team drills, their focus was either on the field or they were working individually on technique.

I asked a couple of people if these camp practices were noticeably different than in the past and everyone I spoke to instantly agreed that Garrett is doing things much differently, and in a good way. The way that he's breaking up the team drills and going back to stretching or individual drills seems to not only be able to keep the focus of the players for three hours, but also is doing a good job of trying to keep his team in shape after being gone for so long from football.

**Rob Ryan knows exactly what he wants. He's a very hands on coach, getting in there with the linebackers and working on positioning and footwork. You can see how the players are going to want to work hard for this guy, an intense coach who isn't afraid to get into the trenches.

What was interesting to see, however, was the way he took overage the coverage drills with the defensive backs from Dave Campo. Ryan was the coach leading this drill, working with each player individually when needed and directing the drill as a whole. Campo, along with the other coaches, was there in support only. From what I was told, this has been the case the entire camp as Ryan is obviously focused on passing along the specific coverage schemes he's going to need for this defense.

**When reading about these reports from camp, don't get too discouraged over whether the offense is allowing a sack or the defense is giving up a play. We want both of these units to excel and they're facing each other day in and day out. Today, it seemed as if both offense and defense had a good day with the offense finding a way to counter the endless assault that Rob Ryan is taking to Garrett's offense.

Make no mistake, this is an attacking defense. His players move with conviction and incredible speed just before the snap and never gave away just where the blitz was coming from. It's not just his exotic blitz packages that are causing problems either, as his linemen and linebackers are able to consistently win individual battles to get into the backfield. I have a feeling that what we saw on Saturday was a bit "vanilla" by Ryan's measurements, but even then there were some fairly exotic looks thrown at the offense.

**The turnover drills were back. Dave Campo had the defensive backs performing a drill where they would fight for an interception by working through the body of a receiver, attempting to secure the ball in close quarters. The defensive linemen were once again working on the strip drill, where two players would team up on the ball carrier and both would attempt to knock the ball loose. The linebackers and defensive backs worked on scoop drills, attempting to pick up a fumbled ball and run with it.

This is a defense that is going to be focused on turnovers. I know that some say that turnovers and penalties cannot be coached, but it seems as if Ryan and Garrett are trying to prove that adage wrong.

**Speaking of penalties, the referees were in attendance and we didn't see our first flag thrown until well into team drills. None of the starters were flagged with a penalty, although it did appear as if Romo was able to get Ware to jump offsides once. Only false start was on the third-string offensive line, as well as one from WR Raymond Radway. A few of the backup cornerbacks were called with pass interference. Overall, Garrett is doing the best he can to minimize the amount of penalties that have plagued this team over the past...decade or so.

**It's easy to see just who the coaches are focused on as the top five receivers. Kevin Ogletree, Dez Bryant and Miles Austin were running with the first team offense and all three are clearly the more polished receivers. After that, it appears as if Dwayne Harris and Jesse Holley have a leg up on the rest with Harris getting the top reps at punt returner. Jesse Holley gets the fifth spot right now, as he had a good day during team drills and was once again used extensively on special teams.

I know there is a lot of hype around Raymond Radway, but I saw nothing that distinguished him from the rest of the rookies. He's a tall, fast receiver but his route running is sloppy at best and his hands aren't the best. Lyle Leong flashed some skill as well, but there just wasn't much to get excited about after the top five receivers. All had their drops and all have a ways to go before seriously contending for a spot on the team.

**Be prepared for an assortment of screens. Garrett is using the screen pass and quick outs to counter the heavy pressure brought by Ryan and while some were blown up, there were more than a few that were incredibly successful. This is a very athletic and capable offensive line when they get moving, and on a quick screen to Felix Jones, David Arkin was 20 yards downfield on the left sideline, form the RG position, as Jones rumbled for an easy long touchdown.

**Tyron Smith is a very raw offensive lineman, but you can see the incredible potential he possesses. He's having trouble with speed rushes around the edge, but he more than held his own in the running game and when he does get his hands on his guy he can't be beaten.

What was most impressive was how on a quick screen to Miles Austin, Smith was able to get off the line and in front of Austin on the sideline just as the pass was arriving and became an extremely menacing lead blocker for the speedy receiver. It was absolutely incredible to witness.

**Abram Elam may not be the most athletic defensive back on the team but he's the smartest. Not once was he out of position in the passing game and while both interceptions came from bad throws, he was in perfect position on others and made several plays to break up the pass. It was very encouraging, especially after so much hand wringing over the play we'd be seeing from our safeties after such a bad year last season.

**I don't know if OLB Alex Albright has a place on this team just yet, but he's making a lot of noise. The speedy linebacker was consistently in the backfield and making plays against the run and the pass, although he did over-pursue at times and let the tight end come free on his side. All the same, he's one impressive defensive player and it will be interesting to see how that carries over to the games.

I'll be on the road today, but I'll do my best to answer any questions you guys might have.

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