Did We Learn Anything From The Dallas Cowboys OTAs And Minicamps?

Dallas Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett has a lot to consider over the next few weeks.

It is the dead time now. We have until July 25th before there is likely to be any real news about the Dallas Cowboys. That is the date the rookies, injured players and quarterbacks report at Valley Ranch prior to the start of the full training camp on July 30th.

And that gives us lots of time to chew over things, like what, if anything, have we learned from the rookie minicamp, OTAs, and full minicamp?


Related: Wrapping Up The Cowboys Offseason With A Gift From The NFL [Video]

I posted a series of Twitter feeds whenever the practices were open to the media (all of training camp will be, apparently, so expect to see some of that in the future). This gave me the opportunity to read over what was coming out of them and get a bit of a feel for what the reporters on site thought they were seeing. I also have gone over several followup articles, including Mickey Spagnola's post-minicamp article at DallasCowboys.com, a collaboration by Nick Eatman, Rob Phillips and Josh Ellis, also at the mothership, an article by Tim MacMahon on Cole Beasley at ESPN DFW, and a report on Morris Claiborne by Tom Orsborn at the San Antonio Express News. Here are some impressions I got of what the team may have figured out.

The details after the jump, of course.

Of course, all this is based on a bunch of practices in helmets, jerseys and shorts, so there is a limit to exactly how much was really determined. But some things did seem to emerge as narratives.

There is a general impression that Dez Bryant has made some very important strides. He had some of his almost patented circus catches, which got picked up in the tweets, but what was more important was the way he was handling the more routine plays. Spagnola, in calling him the player who caught everyone's eyes, put it this way.

Lighter, quicker, running routes with more purpose and on the same page at a much higher percentage with Romo than previously.

Ellis also felt he was the player who stood out the most, and gave a very similar explanation.

Even better, though, he appeared to be making the simple plays with greater consistency over the last month, and there seems to be a belief around the Ranch that he has figured something out this offseason.

And Phillips tabbed him the most improved player he saw at camp. When you add in things like the recent comments from Stephen Jones saying Dez should be the number one receiver and some very high praise for him from Jerry Rice, who knows a thing or two about catching footballs, this is starting to look like a potential breakout year for the former number one pick. He has always had a tremendous talent. Now if he has the maturity and improved skills to put that to use, things could be very exciting for the team.

Dez and Miles Austin (who was also reported to have a good camp), in whatever order you put them, give the Cowboys a very potent one-two punch. But after them, all bets are off. Kevin Ogletree was seen by some, such as Bryan Broaddus, as still having the inside track for the number three spot. Ellis also felt that is true, but he also expressed the opinion that the team is hoping for Andre Holmes to step up. Spagnola saw evidence of that on the last day of practice.

That became obvious in Thursday's final minicamp practice when first-year receiver Andre Holmes worked with the first-team nickel offense, lining up his 6-5 frame on the outside with Miles Austin working the slot.

One of the big issues (at least to fans like us) was that five of the team's draftees missed all or most of the practices due to injury or, in the case of safety Matt Johnson, finishing up school. But this let several other players get a chance to show their stuff, and no one did a better job of it than Cole Beasley. Eatman felt he was the best rookie in camp, and MacMahon's article supports the idea.

Beasley, the 5-foot-8, 175-pound SMU product, has looked like a slot receiver with a chance to stick this spring and summer. He's a quick, pesky little fella with sure hands and a knack for getting open, especially on short and intermediate routes, although he capped minicamp by getting behind a safety to make a play on a post route.

One thing is certain: The competition for the wide receiver position after the big two is going to be one of the most closely watched things at training camp.

Some other people who got mention for really good training camps: DeMarco Murray, Lance Dunbar (the running back battle between him and Phillip Tanner will also be interesting), rookie safeties Lionel Smith and Isaac Madison, Bruce Carter, and one I find particularly intriguing, Jason Hatcher. With talk about Sean Lissemore and Clifton Geathers also coming on, the fact that Hatcher stood out in camp (besides for the little scuffle he and Murray got into on the last day) bodes very well. There was a great deal of concern among some of us about the lack of attention the team paid to improving the pass rush up the middle, and some consternation about pronouncements from some, like Jerry Jones, that the defensive front seven was seen as a strength of the team. But if the reporters there are seeing that kind of play (albeit, I say again, in shorts and shirts), then maybe that confidence from the top is not misplaced. And Tyrone Crawford was one of the missing in action, and is likely to be a part of the mix in Oxnard. Maybe DeMarcus Ware is going to get some help in running up the sack total this year.

In addition to the wide receiver drama unfolding, the two other areas that got mention as likely places for intense competition are safety and the interior of the O-line. Unlike cornerback, where Brandon Carr repeatedly demonstrated why he got the big payday during camp, and Morris Claiborne waits in the wings, there is a wide open race for safety. Brodney Pool is not seen as a guaranteed starter, and the feel is that Barry Church and Matt Johnson both have very good chances of claiming the spot alongside Gerald Sensabaugh.

Guard and center are still positions that are unsettled. Nate Livings seems to be the starter next to Tyron Smith on the left side, but the other two interior spots are not so clearly defined. Phil Costa still seems to have the inside track at center, although Bill Nagy got work there as well from what I could tell (I believe he was snapping the ball with the second team for most of camp). The coaches seem to feel that Costa is likely to continue the improvement he evidenced last year, when his performance in the second half of the season was much more acceptable than in the first. He was thrown into the fire a bit in 2011, and could well have the ability to grow into a reliable starter.

Right guard is in flux. The hip surgery Mackenzy Bernadeau underwent created another void, and Kevin Kowalski also was out with some injury in the closing days. David Arkin got a chance to make a claim early on, but Ronald Leary, the highly regarded UDFA, was seen getting work with the first team towards the end of minicamp. He may be a player to keep a close eye on - and a threat to Arkin's tenure with the team.

The one player the majority of us were probably most disappointed to not see on the field was first round pick 6 Morris Claiborne. He was present all the way (unlike that other cornerback I'll mention in a moment) and, according to Orsborn's article, still managed to impress secondary coach Jerome Henderson.

Four months after he registered an embarrassingly low Wonderlic test score at the NFL Scouting Combine, Claiborne is well on his way to mastering Rob Ryan's defensive playbook.

"I don't know what happened there at the combine, but I know from talking to him he understands football and picks up concepts very well," Henderson said. "He speaks very intelligently and knows how to handle himself. I've been very impressed with him from a mental standpoint, from a professionalism standpoint and from an athletic standpoint."

Now, that other situation. Under the current CBA, Dallas has 90 players on the roster. 89 showed up for the OTAs. The one holdout, as you all know, is cornerback Mike Jenkins. There are still conflicting reports about just what is going on, with the latest a report at Pro Football Weekly stating that the team shopped him during the draft (something loyal BTB readers have known about since the second day of the draft), and is interested in a trade later on when the price may go up as other cornerbacks go down around the league. All this is contrary to everything out of Jerry Jones' mouth about Jenkins during the minicamp, when the disgruntled player finally showed up to avoid fines. But Jerry is not above a little dezinformatsia in working deals. This will certainly be one of the top things getting ink bytes from the media covering Dallas the rest of the summer.

One final thing. I saw this note at ESPN DFW regarding my wounded pet cat (and my only one this year, so as to assuage the Football Gods).

Injured rookie WR Danny Coale appeared to be talking about punting steps with kicking coach Chris Boniol at one point during practice. Coale did some punting at Virginia Tech. He also worked on some field goal holds, too.

Danny Coale getting a few punts and setting up the fake. An old fantasy of mine. It could happen.

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