I would love to go to the Dallas Cowboys OTAs. Or minicamp. Or training camp. Unfortunately, those are not in the cards for me, since I am a) not an accredited media type and b) have some financial/family limitations that keep me from making the trip to Oxnard (although there are some of my fellow writers who expect to make it there - stay tuned for further developments on that front). I have been mining the Twitter feeds for what has been happening at the Cowboys practices - but I need more!
So I took the time to sit down and listen to the latest episode of Talking Cowboys at DallasCowboys.com. This one featured Rob Phillips, Mickey Spagnola, and Bryan Broaddus talking about various things, including what they have seen so far in the two days of OTA that are open to the media.
Now, some people don't like Spagnola very much, because they think he is a flack for the team. Well, that may be true, but I kinda like his stuff, and think he is not as bad as so many think - which also happens to be the title of an article he put up recently about why Dallas should be improved in many areas this season, and worth a few minutes to read.
But listening to Talking Cowboys is going to take over an hour of your time. It is very interesting, because these are three men who sat and watched all of two OTAs, and who work at Valley Ranch, where they talk to the staff and team constantly. Spagnola does sort of serve up the Kool Aid, but Phillips provides a lot of skepticism, and Broaddus is an experienced scout who seems to know a lot and is worth listening to. So I am providing a little recap - not a transcript, but a brief summary of what I thought were the main points of the discussion they had.
The main points after the jump.
As I said, I am summarizing the thoughts from the broadcast. Any errors in passing on what they three gentlemen said is my fault alone. I do attribute some of the specific points, but mostly I just give the gist of what they said. I have tried to not inject too much of my own opinions into this.
The first topic brought up was the injury situation, and how DeMarcus Ware, as advertised by Jason Garrett, was on the field and fully participating on Thursday. This brought up the issue of how this is a very dangerous time, in a sense. The point of the OTAs is to install plays and teach assignments. The players are not tackling, and practice in shorts and T-shirts, with only a helmet for protection. Yet there are still plenty of opportunities for collisions, and ankles and knees are very much at risk. As one of the panel members said, this is when the training staff holds their breath every time a player falls down.
The mention of how JG had assured everyone that DWare would be on the field led to a discussion of how Jerry Jones announced that Mike Jenkins' agent told JJ that Mike will be there for the minicamp. This may largely be because the minicamp is the first mandatory activity of the offseason, and it would cost him money to miss it. Whatever the reason, they went into a general discussion of the Jenkins issue. They all felt that the team is not going to trade Jenkins for anything less than a second round pick, or possibly a well matched player for player deal, although the latter would seem very hard to pull together. The main value of Jenkins is to make sure the team has a solid starter at both cornerback positions. First off, Pick 6 has yet to participate fully in an NFL practice, much less play in a game, and he may take longer to adjust to the pro game than we would like. They gave several examples of higly touted college prospects who needed some time, including Patrick Peterson and the Cowboys' own Kevin Smith, who had to have a season or so to adjust to the NFL game. And Spagnola pointed out the first game of last season - which, coincidentally, was at the same stadium as this season's opener - when Jenkins and Newman were having injury issues, and then during the game, Orlando Scandrick tweaked an ankle. That left the Cowboys with Bryan McCann and (wait for it) Alan Ball as their best cornerbacks. Who, by the way, were not the reason the team lost the game (you may recall a blocked punt and a fumble play that had something to do with that).
The point is that Mike Jenkins would provide a lot of insurance against something like that, and he could also very well be a much needed bridge player while Claiborne is adjusting to the pro game.
Broaddus then talked about the position battle coming between Bruce Carter and Dan Connor. He feels that the starter's job is very much up in the air, with Spags clarifying that Connor was signed to a very affordable deal to provide insurance, not to be the automatic starter. Apparently some opinions that Connor is automatically the starter have emerged, particularly in the Dallas sports/talk radio market. This is another place where the high draft pick of whom much is expected might leave the team needing a bridge player to get the younger player up to speed. Not all players learn at the same rate, and some just need a little more time to blossom. And if Carter is not quite ready to start at the beginning of this year, he will likely be a beast on special teams. One way or another, Carter and Connor will likely take away the passes and runs to the boundary that were eating Bradie James and Keith Brooking alive.
A caller asked an uninformed question about Donald Driver, but it did allow the panel to segue into a discussion of the third wide receiver slot. Holmes is impressing them in some ways. He has good size and speed, but they do not know if he can step up to fill in for an injured Dez Bryant or Miles Austin. However, they feel that is an issue for all of the wide receiver candidates. Broaddus is disappointed in Raymond Radway, just not seeing the quickness and the good hands from last year. He is seeing more from Cole Beasley, who has looked sharper running routes (although he is a lot smaller), probably because of the system he came from. Tim Benford is showing some of the same, and Dwayne Harris has apparently been having a good camp.
There was a discussion of Dez, and how he needs to step up. And how the coaches had a video review that showed how he read a play and adjusted. I struggled a bit listening to this, because it made me so insanely jealous, but they said that almost all the coaching staff came in and broke down plays and why the team did things. The highlight for this discussion was how Dez and Tony Romo made an adjustment from a 5 route to a slant, and exploited the blitz.
Still makes me green with envy.
A relative of Andre Holmes called in and Broaddus again talked about how Holmes may be ahead of Radway at this point. Spags chimed in with how little preparation Holmes has had so far, but Broaddus still feels like Holmes may be showing the most ceiling of the players currently participating, especially those who are holdovers from last year. This led to a very intriguing bit of insight from Spags. Just who was Radway's competition last year? Did he stand out more because there was not the level of ability that there is this year? It is a thought to consider.
The recent flap over "closing windows" set Spagnola off, who was a bit upset the question even came up. Once he got calmed down, they studied just what this meant. Broaddus made the point that he thinks the urgency in JJ's mind is because the Giants have won two Super Bowls this decade, and JJ can't see just how their team is so much better than his own. Phillips felt that the only real difference was the pass rush that the Giants had. Broaddus kept asking who on the Giants the guys would take over Dallas' players, and it was an interesting although somewhat inconclusive discussion. There is also the fact that Jerry is turning 70 this fall, and the window he is worried about closing may be specifically his own.
Safety came up. Spags especially likes Barry Church, and does not feel that Brodney Pool has a lock on the starting position. Church not only plays safety, but is often used as a nickel linebacker. Broaddus is eager to see Matt Johnson get on the field, because of the interceptions he had in college and his overall skills. He then shifted back to corner, and remarked that he liked what he has seen from Isaac Madison. But he has a concern there, because he continues to get negative reviews on Madison from Arkansas fans, who did not like what they saw out of Madison, particularly his lack of interceptions (one in his college career). Broaddus takes critical comments from a college player's own fan base quite seriously. He still likes what he sees of Madison, both on video and in person, but remains concerned.
After a bit of discussion of Phillip Tanner and how he is likely to be pushed in keeping his roster spot as the third running back, they talked a bit about the whole Kool Aid thing (although not exactly in those terms), and then finished up with that Achilles' heel of the Cowboys, the interior of the offensive line. Bill Nagy seems to have settled into the backup center spot, behind Phil Costa, while Kowalski is getting more work at guard and is currently third on the center depth chart. They see some possible growing pains/adjustments coming on the left side of the line, with Tyron Smith learning a new position, Nate Livings a new player coming in, and Phil Costa having to get used to new people on both sides of him. Broaddus is still concerned about David Arkin and his progress, and likes what he is seeing from Ronald Leary. He would probably not be surprised to see Leary break through and start at some point this season.
That is a condensation of the over an hour they spent discussing things. I found a lot of interesting perspective here, and nothing they said was unreasonable or did not seem based in reality. I just thought it was a good discussion to share.
One last, unrelated thing. There is an ongoing debate about just how important the RKG thing is around here, so my eye was caught by the report that Martellus Bennett has reported to the Giants overweight.
In addition to a hamstring injury, Bennett checked in at 291 pounds when OTA's began, Giants tight ends coach Mike Pope told reporters.
"That's probably a little too big for his legs to carry," Pope said.
You think? By comparison, Giants guards David Diehl and Chris Snee each weigh 305.
This led me to two things. First, some of you are going to be very bad over at Big Blue View (Just don't embarrass us, OK?). And the other is, maybe the elusive definition of RKG is simply who you have left when you get rid of all the WKGs.
Just a theory.