Throughout camp, Garrett and his coaching staff have tried to use game-like situations as a way to test the lessons learned during the day's various teaching sessions: meetings, walk-throughs, positional group work, and competitive drills. As a result, most of the full team periods that conclude each practice have featured at least one situational exercise, a two-minute drill with only one time out remaining, for example.
Today, with the Hall of Fame game a mere two days away, the team ratcheted up the amount of situational work. This was clearly the plan; in his midday presser, Jason Garrett told the assembled media about the tenor of the day's work: "It's a big situational day," he said, "We're working on a lot of different situations that come up in the game." So, we saw continued work on familiar stuff from the playbook - screens, red zone, the "13" personnel packages - but with less emphasis on technique and even on competition, and more on situation.
For the team periods as well as the competitive seven-on-seven stuff, every play on Bill Callahan's playsheet had an accompanying down and distance, which was marked off by an amateur chain crew. One or more staffers could be heard yelling out "look at the chains!" as a way of reminding the players that they needed to apply what they have learned thus far about the specifics of technique, formation, play, etc. to more than just the defenses they have been facing thus far. Now, they were also battling the the fictional in-game situation. It's one thing for a receiver to know which route to run; it's quite another to run it past the first down marker on third-and-five.
With this in mind, we saw the team work on multiple game scenarios: red zone, moving the ball out from under the shadow of one's own end zone (this was where much of the 13 personnel was applied) and, finally, an end-of-game scrimmage situation in which the first team offense got the ball with about two and a half minutes left on the clock, trailing 24-20. When they scored (thanks in no small part to a terrific Romo-to-Witten completion to the four) with fewer than forty seconds remaining, the second units took over and Kyle Orton tried to lead the second-teamers down the field. His final pass fell incomplete, however, signalling the end of practice.
There was further situational work in preparation for the Dolphins: we saw both units working against the "Miami" offense and defense, represented by the Cowboys scout team (the third- and fourth- stringers). This was not game planning, per se; rather, the session was designed to prepare them against the basics of the schemes the Dolphins run. For example, they Cowboys haven't faced a 3-4 defense in camp thus far, so the offensive players reviewed assignments against the different scheme. And: it was the second team that operated as the "starters" against the scout team. Make of that what you will.
If any of you were wondering why the Cowboys brought in two offensive linemen, any questions you might have wold be answered when the team broke into position drills. As they often do, the offensive linemen split into two groups, with Frank Pollack taking the tackles (often, he is joined by Wes Phillips, who brings his tight ends over for some integrated work) and Bill Callahan working with the interior guys. Today, Callahan fielded only a skeleton crew; I looked over, and he had just enough players to run a three-on five drill.
And there were further ramifications: in team period, both David Arkin and Ron Leary ran both first and second team. If you remember last year's camp, one of the byproducts of all the offensive line injuries was that Arkin and Leary had to take nearly every team snap, often moving from guard to center as the first team gave way to the second unit. By week two, they were spent and their arrow flattened out and stayed flat for the remainder of camp. With so much depending on these guys, the team can't afford the same burnout this year.
Perhaps as a result of the attrition and consequent addition of new bodies (James Nelson and Jeff Olson joined the team and jumped immediately into the fray, participating fully in drills and getting a goodly allotment of reps in the team periods), as well as some continued mixing and matching on the O-line (Travis Frederick took some snaps at LG, Arkin moved over for a few reps at center, and Edawn Coughman moved inside to guard for a bit), the defense dominated the offense on the afternoon. During the final team period, they registered five unofficial sacks, gave up very little running room and generally won the individual competitive periods. In particular, DeMarcus Ware spanked Tyron Smith in pass rush drills. The competition throughout the roster that I so proudly championed in recent posts an in my podcast conversation with KD yesterday was not in evidence today, at least not when the respective lines went head to head.
Speaking of head to head, one of the personnel groups that we saw the Cowboys return to today was the three tight end package that we had seen last week when they worked on third down material and then saw again on Tuesday, when they unveiled the goal line and short yardage material for the first time. On Thursday, we saw a series power runs from this "13" personnel (indeed, they kicked off the second team period with an extended run series), but also saw some interesting play calls from this grouping. In fact, the sail route that Romo completed to Witten came off of play action out of a three-tight end set.
Indeed, Jason Garrett has always enjoyed going against formation. Today, we saw several passes out of 13 sets, and, near the goal line in the two-minute drill, repeated draw plays to DeMarco Murray out of "11" personnel (three wide receivers). When the defense respects the personnel (i.e., fears the running potential of a three-tight set), nice gains can be had. At this juncture, it appears that Garrett wants formational foolery to be a critical element in the 2013 offense, particularly the running game, as it was in 2009, the last time they made the playoffs.
I'll have a more complete breakdown later tonight/ early tomorrow morning, and a final report or two from Oxnard on Friday. In these, I'll try to mix detailed reportage with some "State of the Cowboys at the quarter pole"-type assessments. So stay tuned!