Cowboys Training Camp Report Day Three: Defense Rules The Day

Reason number 47 for why the Cowboys are penalized so often: The Refs always look the other way. (Photo courtesy of Steven Van Over for SportsTalkLine.com)

Practice today was organized much like it was on the previous two days. The only surprise was that secondary coach Jerome Henderson was the first guy on the field and doing sprints all by himself.

The Cowboys again started today’s session with the "blue practice" for rookies and young players, which allowed these guys to get their reps in the first 30 minutes of practice. The next thirty minutes were spent on special teams work, after which the veterans joined the team for two hours of full team practice.

We'll start the summary of the days' events with the offensive line:

Before practice started Coach Callahan once again had a teaching session with his linemen, this time including Doug Free and Tyron Smith. This went on until the horn blew for practice to start at 2:30 PT. And these teaching sessions continued throughout practice. I’m specifically calling them teaching sessions instead of drills, because Callahan is spending a lot of time explaining and teaching during those sessions. I don’t know whether that is his standard operating procedure, or whether he simply has to start from scratch with the Cowboys’ linemen.

Here is what we do know: Throughout the day, the offensive line struggled. The first team struggled, the second team struggled and the remains of the third team struggled. Overall, they seemed to do a halfway passable job in runblocking (the first team sprang Murray for a couple of big gains) but they didn’t hold up well in pass protection.

Keep in mind that this early in camp, the defense usually has the upper hand in these matchups, but it is still a little disconcerting to see how porous the O-line was. Norman Van Brocklin used to call this type of line a "watch-out" line: "A watch-out blocker is a guy who misses his assignment and turns around and hollers to the quarterback, 'Watch out!'"

Add the increasing toll of injuries to the list of concerns and the Cowboys may be finding themselves in a little conundrum with regards to the O-line. Not that that comes as much of a surprise, of course.

Corners/Receivers

One of the highlights today were man press coverage drills between the cornerbacks and the wide receivers, which were conducted right in front of a wall of excited fans.

These were very intense drills. Perhaps the most intense so far in camp. Both the corners and the receivers came to show what they had, and they did not hold back. Couple of observations from these:

  • Brandon Carr is one strong dude, and incredibly physical on the line. He got the better of every receiver except Dez Bryant, and that includes Miles Austin.
  • Dez Bryant is able to move with an athleticism and elegance that is almost uncanny. On his first matchup with Carr he simply juked Carr out of his shoes and left him standing. Carr recovered on subsequent matchups with Bryant, but Bryant dominated the other corners almost at will.
  • The crowd really got into the Bryant/Claiborne matchups, and while I didn’t keep count, it felt like those two were matched up by the coaches a lot more frequently than any other combination. Bryant won the initial few bouts, but Claiborne held his own and did better down the stretch, eventually completely stonewalling Bryant on the last rep. The crowd went nuts.

Overall, Morris Claiborne had a so-so day. He was tested deep and gave up a couple of long completions to Bryant and Radway. But he also had some good plays where he had some really tight coverage on his receivers, including Dez Bryant, though he wasn’t able to keep Bryant under wraps the whole time. Claiborne is not yet as physical at the line as Carr is, but he is not afraid to engage in contact and does it fairly well.

Other Random observations:

  • Tim Benford had a good day. In fact, he’s had three good days in a row, and he’ll find himself in the running for a roster spot if he continues at this pace. In many ways, Benford reminds me of Patrick Crayton. Benford doesn’t look spectacular, but plays a very solid game. He catches almost everything and looks smooth in his route-running. He again caught some nice balls today but also spectacularly missed on a long pass that found him uncovered en route to the endzone.
  • Orie Lemon is showing up all over the place, and had a good day as a pass defender, notching two pass breakups, one of which he almost intercepted. After three days, Lemon is ahead of McSurdy and it's not even close.
  • Adrian Hamilton was one of many front seven players who had a good day, getting a sack and a blocked pass in the blue scrimmage, but also giving Doug Free fits later. This guy can rush.
  • TE James Hanna had an uneventful day, which is good. He caught some nice passes, held on to the ball in ball security drills and didn’t drop a ball, a big plus for a guy whose biggest issue seemed to be his stone hands.
  • Clifton Geathers also put up a show at defensive end. The man-mountain was just too much for the inside linemen he faced and was a constant disruptor in the backfield. At some point we’ll have to see how he does against the first team, but if he continues at this pace, he is going to knock somebody off the roster.
  • Cole Beasley’s stock took a plunge today with the pads on. Beasley will have to make the team as a receiver, but we can probably forget about him as a special teams contributor. He was simply pushed aside in gunner drills, lost the ball in ball security drills, and had a little trouble fielding punts, though that was probably because he lost the ball in the sun. Then again, he is one of the most effective receivers on the team, and his anticipation of where the defenders will be is pretty impressive.
  • One guy who showed up, especially on special teams but also in scrimmage was Mana Silva, who almost had an interception in 7-on-7 drills.
  • C.J Wilson may have had the best day of anybody in camp. He was involved in multiple pass breakups, played a tight, physical game. He also had some mistakes, but he played with passion, emotion and enthusiasm.
  • Another guy who looked surprisingly good in pads was Teddy Williams, who in his third year actually looks and plays like a real cornerback, at least today.
  • Jason Hatcher had at least two would-be sacks, both against the first team offense. I think we're going to have a lot of fun with Hatcher this year.

Overall, this was a practice that was dominated by the defense. It's not totally clear to me whether this was because the offensive line was so bad, or because the defense, and particularly the front seven, was so good.

The good news though is that Claiborne is adjusting to the NFL, and adjusting well, I might add. Also, it looks like the Cowboys have some solid depth coming along in the front seven, and not only because Kyle Wilberforce and Tyrone Crawford are looking like very nice pickups.

Practice ended once more with windsprints today as Garrett keeps channeling his inner Jimmy Johnson.

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