This year's spate of Oxnard practices ended not with a bang but with a whimper. Earlier in the day, Jason Garrett stood before the assembled media and told them he was happy with the effort during yesterday's sluggish afternoon practice. I found this declaration surprising; to my eyes, the team looked both mentally and physically exhausted. This afternoon's doings served to affirm that perception, as I saw a lot of behavior befitting a tired team, one the coaching staff was loathe to push further into the meat grinder that has been their time in sunny California.
As a result, the players left their pads in the locker room, practicing in helmets and shorts for the first time since they donned pads for the first time a little more than two weeks ago. The practice began according to the script they used last Saturday, in the final tune-up for the Raiders contest: a special teams practice (with the offensive linemen off to the side working with Bill Callahan) cycling through all the various special teams phases; a full-team warm-up; and the scripted 11-on-11 period, which is always run at about half speed.
All resemblances to Saturday's slobberknocking affair ended at that juncture, however. In the morning walk-through, the team participated in the full scout team phase, with the first teams going up against a collection of twos and threes impersonating the Chargers' units. This afternoon, however, the team eschewed any of that work, nor did we see the extensive, intense scrimmaging we saw in preparation for the trip to Oakland (given that they were in shorts and shells, this was an impossibility).
The primary reason for this was that, when the schedule came to the field goal phase, Garrett, sensing that his team was spent (and perhaps wanting kicker Dan Bailey to experience a true pressure situation), announced that, if he made his first kick, the team would be excused for the rest of practice. Bailey split the uprights with a 27-yard boot, and the entire team exploded in celebration; indeed, it was the most energy I had seen from them since their return from Oakland. They quickly gathered for the second group talk of the day, and then suddenly ran off the field en masse, ending a full hour earlier than at any other point in the past fortnight. Word on the street had it that they were all headed for the beach, for some much-needed R&R.
What should we make of this early departure? Rabble shares some thoughts after the break...
Perhaps I'm being overly cynical, but I have a hard time imagining that excusing the team was really a spur-of-the-moment decision. Despite his protestations to the contrary, Garrett surely saw how tired his team looked yesterday, and, with another game (as well as what are sure to be a couple of very physical practices in subsequent days) coming up in San Diego, didn't want them too spent to execute. I'd bet the coaching staff decided yesterday to end today's practice early (after all, there were three chartered buses waiting in the parking lot to take the players to the beach).
But just because Garrett's dare was premeditated doesn't preclude it from being psychologically astute. The RHG knows that Bailey is automatic from 27 yards (heck, with KD snapping and Archie holding, O.C.C. would probably be good about half the time from that distance). But, by offering Bailey a pressurized pseudo-"challenge," he turned excusing the squad early from a potential punishment for two consecutive low energy practices into a reward for making it through a hard, physically demanding camp.
A few scattered highlights from a short practice nearly devoid of them:
-During the full squad period, Romo would have been sacked by DeMarcus Ware on consecutive passes. I was talking to a very informed fan today, and he was marveling at how athletic Ware is; in a group of elite athletes, he stands alone. Moreover, at the ripe old football age of 30, he still appears as quick and explosive as he was when he came into the league. This is a rare player, people; we must work not to take him for granted (I know I usually just chalk up an automatic 15 sacks going into every season).
-In the comments section following O.C.C.'s recent take on the 53-man roster, I noted that the coaches now have Cole Beasley and Dwayne Harris playing the exact same positions: punt returner, slot receiver, and a smattering of plays split out wide.There's no way they will keep two guys who fit this bill; it appears that Harris and Beasley are an either/ or proposition. On what was probably today's highlight play, Harris ran down the seam, turned and leaped to grab a pass as the defensive back hit him, ripping off his helmet, showing off the lid-less Harris' wide smile.
This was precisely the pattern that the coaches asked Beasley to run in the Oakland game's first series. If you haven't yet excised that death march from your consciousness, you'll recall that the pass seemed overthrown - and that its almost impossible to get the ball over a defensive back to a short receiver down the seam. The fact that Beasley couldn't make that play (a staple for the slot guy; see the way the Saints use 6'4" Marques Colston) - and that Harris can - suggests that the second year wideout can threaten safeties when he's lined up in the slot. To stick, Beasley will have to show that he, too, can pose a similar threat.
-Like a zombie army, the walking wounded continue to shamble slowly towards health. Three more players returned to practice Thursday (although, admittedly, that might have been due to that absence of pads). OG Nate Livings, LB Orie Lemon and RB Lance Dunbar all saw snaps in the walk-through. Miles Austin was working hard on the bands with the trainign staff, and Phillip Tanner was getting in a lot of good work, running, cutting and doing other lower-body drills (he's out with a hand injury, so his feet and legs are fine). On the other hand, neither Matt Johnson nor Danny Coale practiced, and swing tackle Jermey Parnell has developed a tweaked neck, and spent practice running on the side.
-And, in a widely-hailed bit of good news: Stephen Jones confirmed with almost absolute certainty (offering a 99% chance) that training camp will return to Oxnard next year. I've got one word for that: Yippee!
A sincere offer of gratitude to all who helped make our Oxnard venture a reality by contributing to the BTB training camp fund. If you wanted to, but haven't yet done so, here's you final opportunity to ensure that you continue to get the best training camp info on Interwebs.