This year, the Cowboys training camp practices start an hour and a half later than they did in 2012. As a result, our reports of the doings at camp are pushed back, often so much so that they are published too late for our loyal East Coast readers to enjoy before bedtime. So, for the rest of my time in Oxnard, I will be writing a short post filled with general comments directly after the session ends, so that our East Coast brethren will have a little info before beddy-bye, and then follow that up with a longer post that West Coasters should get that night and others can access the next morning. Here we go:
- Today's practice focused on zone runs and nickel situations, largely against two tight end and three-receiver sets. All the position group work featured drills aimed at improving the techniques necessary to success in those situations. I'll talk at much greater length about how these lessons related to the full team work in my longer post later tonight.
- Speaking of two tight end sets (the famed "12" personnel): there is a lot of variety in this personnel package. I'm noticing a lot more motion; sometimes, two TEs will switch sides, sometimes two will motion from one side to the other (thus shifting the "heavy" side): sometimes, one or more will motion into the backfield. Right now, the player who most resembles the old Moose Johnston F-back package, where he would play fullback, tight end and even split out wide, is Dante Rosario. This stands to reason, as he's done this job before, with Norv Turner's Chargers.
- Today's practice offered a heavy dose of zone blocking, from the O-line's individual technique sessions to its sub-group work, to the full team period. The first segment of the final 11-on-11 session was all run, and we saw nothing but zone principles. Of course, they were able to use play action off of this, making Tony Romo look a lot like a late 90s John Elway or a more recent Matt Schaub, faking a handoff on a stretch play and rolling out in the other direction. More on this in the longer post.
- A final note about the offense: we can see the rudiments of a future playcalling system in action on the practice fields. Bill Callahan simply calls a number from off his playsheet, which correlates to a number on the quarterbacks' wristbands, which contain the day's callsheet. At one point, Callahan could be heard shouting out "seven, seven" to Romo, who then glanced at his wristband as he ducked into the huddle to call the full play.
- Each day, the special teams works on one aspect of the kicking game. Today, it was kickoff return. Rich Bisaccia and friends broke their charges up into discrete levels, with each working on the basics of spacing, locating blockers, and crafting specific returns. Later in the practice the entire team put all these elements together.
- The coaches, as Garrett promised in his speech to the team, are riding the players hard - much harder, it seems, than they did in last year's camp. On three occasions, Garrett pulled an offensive unit for making a mistake, and he, Monte Kiffin, Rod Marinelli and others could be heard throughout the session, giving feedback, barking orders, and doling out high fives for good plays in the full team session.
- Speaking of Marinelli, he is a joy to watch. Last year, watching Callahan coach the offensive line was, in a word, a revelation. This year, I'm having the same experience watching Marinelli. Like Callahan, he is energetic and extremely detail oriented, offering the most minute of adjustments -often a matter of an inch or two.
- Marinelli was joined on more than one occasion by DeMarcus Ware, who was offering encouragement and tips to the younger defensive linemen, especially Cameron Sheffield, who may well be the man who will replace Tyrone Crawford. One one drill, Sheffield's left hand was too low, and Ware told him so repeatedly. When Sheffield couldn't get the hang of it, Ware called him aside to work on it with him while the coaches continued to work with the other players. In his speech, Garrett implored the players, especially the veterans, to lead. It looks like Ware is taking that injunction to heart.
- This coaching staff is comprised of excellent teachers. One of their pedagogical tools is to review film of the practice. Usually, the players watch footage shot from atop towers placed in each endzone, which is good at showing things like spacing and positioning for defensive backs, but less so when it comes to the detailed technique work that sits atop the agenda at this point in camp. So, most drills are being taped by cameramen with handheld cameras; they get up close to the action so the coaches can really see what the players are doing right - and wrong. During one defensive line drill, one assistant had a tiny camera on the end of what looked like a golf club, which he was able to insert between players to capture the specifics of their hand usage. No detail is too small for Garrett and his staff...
Oh, and Demetress Bell is really, really fat. I have a hard time imagining he'll be ready to make a significant contribution before they leave Oxnard.