Today's training camp practice, the seventh, felt very much like practices one through six, and especially like the most recent handful. The team focused especially on situations and material that we had seen in the past few days: red zone and hurry up. Watching the patterns emerge from training camp, it's become very clear that one of the team's top priorities, perhaps even the item atop the list, is to achieve greater success in the red zone.
Once again, the majority of drill periods focused on red zone work, with the quarterbacks, receivers and tight ends joining forces to work through the inside-the-twenty playsheet. As they have in recent days, the Cowboys worked on sending multiple receivers into the end zone, as a way to stress the zone defenses that they are sure to face once they get inside the opposing 20-yard line. When they do this, they are often sending a running back on an underneath crossing route, often on a delay, so that he can exploit underneath zones that have been expanded by the three or four targets that have flooded end zone.
Other familiar items that Jason Garrett and his coaches ticked off the agenda included work on the hurry-up offense, largely consisting of three-receiver alignments, and a bit of polishing of heavy sets, specifically 13 personnel. After the down-roster guys had the opportunity to hit each other with bad intentions on Sunday, there was a reduced emphasis on the run today, with the exception of the second and third team periods, each of which began with run-heavy segments.
One of the running plays that was worked on extensively was a staple of Garrett's offense: a power edge run wherein the tight end blocks down on the defensive end and the tackle to his inside pulls around him, leading the back outside. We have seen this run by Cowboys right tackles in recent years, including both Tyron Smith and Doug Free, both of whom worked on it today. But the play was most effective in 2008-09, when Marc Colombo would pull around a Jason Witten downblock and lead Marion Barber around the edge. I for one wouldn't mind seeing it return as a staple of a successful ground game.
Joining Free and Coughman in offensive line drills was Ron Leary, who passed his physical and jumped right in (and his timing was impeccable, as backup OG Ray Dominguez was dinged and spent the day with trainers). As practice commenced, Leary lined up with the second team offensive line but, as the afternoon wore on, the coaches had him rotate in with the first unit, trading snaps with incumbent starter Nate Livings. As might be expected in his first day back, Leary ran hot and cold: in one-on-one OL-DL drills, he demonstrated excellent anchor, but also was burned by quickness. As is the case with players who enter a game midway through, it will probably take a bit of time before Leary adjusts to the speed of the NFL game, as Rod Marinelli's defensive line play it.
Leary and Livings weren't the only offensive linemen who were being mixed and matched by Bill Callahan and Frank Pollack. I noticed them shuttling second unit guys in and out with the first team on several occasion. It's likely they want to get a sense of how guys play when surrounded by different players - and a higher grade of player. As we get closer to the first preseason game, which will feature a lot of such mixing and matching of personnel, I'd expect to see more of this, and at more positions that just the offensive line.
As is usually the case during this time of the season, followers of the team are releasing innumerable 53-man roster projections. Indeed, our own O.C.C. offered up a particularly well-reasoned one earlier today. All of these I have seen, Cool's included, tend to project four tight ends on the final roster, with the quatrain of players universally the same: Jason Witten, Gavin Escobar, James Hanna and Dante Rosario. Watching practice today, especially those instances in which they deployed in 13 personnel, I was struck by the very real possibility that, to ensure that they'll be able to run their offense effectively, they might need to keep more than four. If we think about the position as a combination of tight end and fullback, then five total players doesn't seem so unreasonable...
In thinking about the 53-man roster, then, we must also consider special teams. As of today, Eric Frampton, who is firmly entrenched at third-team safety, is running with the first team on several special teams units. I have a hard time imagining that they'd keep both him and Danny McCray, his fellow third-team safety. Seeing this elicited several questions for me: might they be considering a Frampton-McCray position battle as a legitimate possibility? And might they see this as a real possibility not because Frampton can match McCray as a special teams ace, but because he offers good teams play without being such a liability in coverage?
Want a taste of camp? Here's a salty one, provided by defensive line coach Rod Marinelli. When Monte Taylor, who has had a better-than-expected camp, stood up at the snap instead of firing out and, as a result, was stonewalled by Coughman, Marinelli lit into him, yelling "You're not going to [expletive] stand up. You're not going to do that. That's [expletive]! We don't [expletive] stand up!" Taylor seemed to take it in stride, coming back to flash some speed getting around the edge in subsequent snaps. And he stayed low in doing so.
I'll have a longer blow-by-blow later tonight. Until then, a nice thought to sustain you: Lance Dunbar continues to display tremendous quickness. On one play, he took a run off guard, cut outside and raced down the sideline. What makes him special is his ability to cut without reducing speed, a trait that made the young Felix Jones so dangerous. Watching him, and hearing Jason Garrett praise him in his mid-day presser, makes me ever more certain that Dunbar will be the number two back to start the season.
More Cowboys Camp Coverage
- How Do Injuries Compare To Same Time Last Year?
- Cowboys Jason Witten Poised To Excel?
- News: Cowboys LB Corps Among Best In NFL?
- Camp Report, Practice Number Seven
- Early Storylines From Cowboys Training Camp