California here I come
Right back where I started from...
Why begin with this old chestnut? You may not know this, but Ol' Rabble grew up in Southern California and, although friends and family believe otherwise, I have used the Oxnard-based training camps as an excuse to return to my old stomping grounds whenever possible, making pilgrimages in 2005, '08, '10...you get the picture.
The point is that I've attended my share of Oxnard training camp practices and I've never (I repeat, NEVER) witnessed the scene that was Sunday's Blue-White scrimmage. Early estimates were that as many as
6,000 8000 9008 loyalists descended upon the River Ridge grounds, which simply weren't built to accommodate a crowd that size. Our resident cyborg, O.C.C., had to wait two hours to get inside the compound; the bleachers were packed, with small children hanging from them and people afraid to go to the bathroom lest they surrender their prized seat; Cowboys officials redirected overflow crowds into several previously unavailable areas (such as the VIP section, it appeared).
And they were fired up. At one point, several hundred fans joined in serenading a fan wearing an Eagles jersey with a rousing, extended chorus of "Eagles suck." These fans were ready for some football; unfortunately, the eagerly anticipated "scrimmage" failed to live up to their rabid expectations. 18 of the 90 players on the roster (that's 20%) were unable to participate due to some sort of injury, with seven of the walking wounded being starters, including such big names as Miles Austin, Jay Ratliff and Mo Claiborne. In their places, we were treated to Dwayne Harris, Rob Callaway, and Mario Butler.
And, to top it off, the actual scrimmage was a short and, because it involved only the second and third teams, rather uninspired affair. If you want to picture it, think of the fourth quarter of a sloppy preseason game, peopled with guys who will never play NFL football, and you'll be pretty close. Re: the scrimmage: due to the massive crowds, I'm sorry to say that there is no real way to describe what the Cowboys were trying to do with any accuracy, so I'll make like an NFL head coach, and defer any play-by-play analysis until I've "had a chance to review the tape." What I'll offer in the meantime are a handful of observations from my first day at camp, during which my foremost responsibility was to avoid dropping the baton extended by O.C.C. after his rousing first leg of the coverage race.
Make the jump to see Rabble's first steps in the BTB Training Camp Relay...
Speaking of O.C.C.: The highlight of the day for me was sitting in the bleachers, chatting about the Cowboys with O.C.C. Most of you are probably wondering what he's like and, most importantly, whether he's man or machine. I can't say that I've settled this question once and for all; I'm not saying the man's not a cyborg (because if he is, he's a really advanced model, obviously, and so wouldn't actually look like a cyborg), but there are telltale signs that he may, in fact, be human. The first of these is a sense of humor; the man deftly wields his rapier wit. Think about it: how many of the replicants in the various "Aliens" movies were funny? Would a cyborg pen a tongue-in-cheek post entitled "Fear The Star?" I'm just sayin'...
Garrett always has a plan: Today, the team followed the same warm-up schedule that they would follow before a regular season game: the punters, kickers, holders and snappers came out first, followed by return specialists, then position groups. All worked on their respective techniques, then the team got together to stretch and then ran plays in 11-on-11. This was followed by a red zone period, pass rush drills, a two-minute period and then the "scrimmage," in which the first teamers didn't participate.
In addition, they used play clocks and officials throughout the various periods. Watching this, I was struck that everything the Cowboys do seems to be the result of a coherent, long-term plan. I told O.C.C. (and he didn't disagree vehemently, so I have to be right) that I thought Garrett decided he wanted working playclocks for the scrimmage back in February, as he was devising his offseason syllabus. From where I sit, he introduces each new element with tremendous consideration for when his players are most likely be be able to digest and to integrate it.
Emphasizing the run, part I: After warm-ups, the Cowboys went into a full-squad period. The first ten or twelve 11-on-11 plays they ran were runs, many of them sweeps and off tackle plays. They actually had fairly good success moving the ball to the perimeter. Running inside, however, was an entirely different matter...
Emphasizing the run, part II: Demarco Murray is a beast. Last year's third rounder looks like he's ready to assume a bell cow role. Yesterday, he gave Teddy Williams a concussion; on several occasions today, he exploded onto defenders. On one, he and Sean Lee met and fell to the ground, eliciting loud cheers from the crowd.
An observation on the defensive line candidates: there's not a single defensive lineman in camp who would be a surprise were he to make the team. Clifton Geathers is a monster, and his arrow is pointing up. Players like Rob Callaway and Ben Bass have shown something, certainly enough to earn practice squad consideration. Let's imagine a scenario wherein Jason Hatcher and Jay Ratliff miss the first couple of preseason games, thus giving extra snaps to Callaway and Bass. Say that both players flash a little something against the Raiders and Chargers. If this were to happen, thus all but guaranteeing that neither Bass nor Callaway could be slopped onto the practice squad, the Cowboys brass would be faced with some tough decisions: do they cut veterans to make room for promising youngsters? Do they go extra heavy at defensive line?
Brandon Carr is really good: First impression? He has terrific size. I remember coming to Oxnard in 2005 and seeing that year's newly-signed FA corner, Anthony Henry, who was big for a corner at 6'1", 205. I was impressed by Henry's athleticism at that size, and enjoyed him muscling receivers up close. Carr is roughly the same size, and plays a more physical game than Henry. He just smothers receivers at the line; on at least one play, the opposing wideout never got off the line of scrimmage. Yes, the whistle blew, and he was still trying to get out of Carr's grip. I think Carr's going to be really fun to watch.
Stephen McGee? Not so much: The third team offense started off with three straight three-and-outs. During the week, both McGee and Rudy Carpenter were working on the side on timing throws in which they took a three- or five-step drop and released the ball when their feet hit that final step. McGee can execute this all day...without a rush. But when faced with real, live defenders his internal clock clearly goes haywire. Granted, the right side of his offensive line was Harland Gunn and Pat McQuistan, but I'm not sure he'd look any different if it were the 90s versions of Larry Allen and Erik Williams.I think there's a special NFL quarterback synapse that McGee simply doesn't possess.
Wonder if Jerry would spend the extra 300 Grand about now: Picking up where he left off, Chris Jones shanked punt after punt today. One was mis-hit so badly that it veered off to the left, landing not only out of bounds, but on the tent behind the crowd gathered five yards away from the sideline. Form henceforward, he will be known on these pages as the King of Shanks. And to think: for an extra 300,000 or so, Jerry Jones could have pried Mat McBriar away from the Eagles' crusty talons. The Cowboys brass repeats that they have confidence in Jones, but I wonder...
Raymond is Rad: Although Tim Benford, Donovan Kemp, and Cole Beasley all made plays today (and each scored at least one touchdown in red zone or two-minute drills), it's Raymond Radway who is emerging as the leading candidate for the third receiver spot. A week ago, he looked stiff and it seemed he was still recovering from last year's gruesome and untimely leg injury. Suddenly, he is not only stacking good practices one upon the other, but looks explosive and fluid. He has the size-speed combination the Cowboys covet in their wideouts. If he can add some playmaking to his resume, the Dallas scouts might be inclined to ease up on their careful search for addition receiver help. And, on a sober note:
Is Ratliff done?: As Jay Ratliff's plantar fasciitis injury lingers, I can't help but think of other great players who suffer an injury, struggle with it, sometimes even playing for another year or so, before fading away. For Rat, I wonder: is this that moment? Is this that time when a proud warrior's body declares that it can no longer hold up to the unimaginable stress of interior line play? Have the rigors of the game finally won out in the battle with his indomitable spirit? It's not the kind of question that we want to contemplate, but for players at his age and position, it must be asked.
I hope the answer is "no." I really do...
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