I live about 3 miles from where the Cowboys camp in Oxnard and have gone to a few practices every year that they have come here. To date myself I even caught a few of Landry’s practices in Thousand Oaks when I was a kid. This year I was unable to break away the first week of camp and when I drove by on Sunday and saw 4000+ people in a line over two hours before practice I decided to forgo five hours in the sun for what would surely be a poor view of a scrimmage I could better watch online. Instead I took Tuesday afternoon off and headed to Cowboys camp.
Good choice. I walked in two hours before to camp to a nearly empty set of bleachers. I settled into a spot on the top bleacher right on the 50 yard line. The crowd was modest enough that when I later chose to move down to field level I again was able to settle in at the 50 as others were heading to the end zone. Better yet, the vast majority of the practice was conducted on the near field.
I have enjoyed both of these views of a Cowboy camp before; but never in the same day. The view from the bleachers is best for watching the far field where the trainers were working with the Cowboys walking wounded. It is also a good spot to observe plays that cover a lot of ground such as coverage unit practices. The field level view is great for getting some photos and video footage of the near field scrimmages and today my timing was good. Shortly after I headed down to the field level the team wrapped up the goal line practices and brought out the sticks and conducted a variety of scrimmage between the 30s.
Here are some of my observations
At the start of practice they started practicing kickoffs on the near field, the lineman gathered in their units on the right side of the far field while the trainers worked with the walking wounded.
Felix Jones and Raymond Radway got the repetitions on the returns. Felix displayed his ability to explode toward open spaces and was clearly the more decisive returner. The point of the exercise fielding the kick and choosing the correct running lane as there was not any hitting and most of the starting coverage unit players stayed with their perspective units. Maybe it was an artifact of missing 15 camp bodies, but it was still a strange sight to see kickoff coverage unit featuring the kicker, two backup quarterbacks and two punters.
On the far field the trainers stayed busy through most of the practice. Morris Claiborne worked extensively with trainers and a tow rope. He moved fast forward and latterly for a guy with a leg injury. Jay Ratliff ran some pedestrian sprints with the tow rope. I only watched him for about five minutes, but my unprofessional eyes were concerned by what they saw. In contrast Hatcher moved well.
On the left side of the far field the linemen worked with their units. The action did not seem fast paced and the coaches sometimes stopped it to teach. While there was a lot of contact and some of it seemed competitive, it was impossible for me to determine anyone’s performance.
After the first break Tony Romo joined the practice they started passing drills. One side of the field Romo worked with the wide receivers verse corners and on the other side the line backers and safeties worked verse the tight ends and running backs.
Back in Parcells camps and even in the last Wade camp in Oxnard, Witten looked like someone blew their coverage every single snap. Witten still catches everything, including when he has little separation, but I noticed that he no longer seems to be so wide open on every play.
Kyle Orton had an unexceptional day. He missed a few throws early and was late delivering a deep route the Bryant later on in the scrimmages. Romo was very accurate, completing some tight passes. I only noticed two poor throws in the day. One was a bit out in front on a crossing pattern and once too high on another throw in the middle of the field. Bryant caught the second one, but would have paid in blood if it had been a real game. Romo even caught one pass as they performed one crazy three or four lateral play for the fans entertainment. Note in the picture below Romo raising his hand for the ball.
With Claiborne and Jenkins out the backup corners did not have a good day matching up with the backup receivers. Brandon Carr always closely covered his man and was only beat by deep twice due to superior athletic plays by Bryant. Scandrick was also close in coverage, but gave up multiple catches being in a slight trailing position. Receivers achieve separation on the other corners more often than not and disappointing to me was that AOW was occasionally beat bad enough that he almost seemed to be in zone coverage on some of the man coverage drills.
Cole Beasley had a very good practice as he was often open and was successfully targeted multiple times in the 11 on 11 drills and on the 7 on 7 passing drills. He is a very small football player and did not seem real fast, but he got open and caught the ball and on more than one occasion beat coverage deep.
Both Andre Holmes and Radway seem to over match the backup corners with their size and speed.
Kevin Ogletree is bigger than I remembered and he is still fast with a single cut quick change of direction. He continues to frustrate as he is clearly the third most gifted receiver roster; but he ran the wrong route twice that I caught and had a couple of drop balls too.
Dez Bryant was as dominate as advertised. He beat Carr cleaning one play and the next he snagged a jump ball verse Carr when Carr had played it as well as it could be played. Verse the backup corners it looked like childs play. His play was as impressive as T.O. was his first training camp as a Cowboy.
I missed getting those on Camera, but here is one of Carr batting one away.
One amusing moment was after Romo was sacked due to a missed assignment by rookie tight end James Hana, Romo threw the ball and bounced it off his backside.
I am a big Sean Lee fan, but based off watching drills and scrimmages for a day I don’t think he would want to earn his living by providing man-on-man pass coverage of Demarco Murry or Felix Jones. He drew that duty more than any other linebacker, but fared no better.
I was pleased to learn that Lawrence Vickers can run a route and catch in addition to bring some pop to the running game.
There was a new punter in camp sporting number 4. He made Chris Jones look all world with his mix of shanks and 35 yard punts. Jones on the other hand did hit a few 50 yards, but his punts often lacked the good hang time that we have enjoyed watching the last few years.
While the pass defense looked depleted in the drills it looked better in the 11 scrimmages. When the corners and linebackers worked as a unit the gaps got smaller and they pass rush forced earlier throws. In that context the corners that had been frequently burned looked a lot better.
In the small portion of the practice that they focused on the running game they were not running draws or sweep, but instead focused on power set interior run. On the ten or so plays that I could see, the run defense out played the run offense. I hope it is because our run defense is improved despite Ratliff sitting out. The pragmatist in me thinks it probably speaks more to the lack of power in our interior offensive line.
The offensive line game up quite a few sacks and the scrimmages were marred by 3 or 4 bad snaps. One of which Romo just swatted away is disgust, calling do over. Not a choice he will have in real games. I thought that I saw Arkin snapping the ball in part of the scrimmage. When I check my videotape I can’t get a clear look at the centers number and I have read accounts that contradict that so I am not sure.
One good thing that stood out to me was Tyron Smith handled his business at left end and that even Ware was less effective when coming from his side. Ware did make two plays in the pass rush, but both when lining up on the right side.
I plan to go back once or twice next week. I hope to get a better look at the safety and interior line play.
For the record the photo's included are mine via my phone.