On Tuesday, the Cowboys participated the closest resemblance to real football we'll get until training camp. Annually, the first OTA sessions provide scouts and scribes alike with the first chance to see how the rookies and new additions measure up to the hoary vets, offer initial looks at who will play where, show us which players have reshaped their bodies in the offseason program, and more.
Dallascowboys.com's in-house scout offers us a handful of things to look for in the OTA session. One of these proved to be sadly relevant:
There is not a better player for rookie Anthony Hitchens to study on how to practice than Sean Lee for how to play Mike linebacker in this scheme. In studying Hitchens before the draft, I felt like he was a little too heavy for the position and would be better if he slimmed down a bit. If you remember how much an influence Lee was on DeVonte Holloman when he made the switch from outside to inside linebacker, I expect the same for Anthony Hitchens as he begins this journey.
Like he did with Holloman, Lee will have to school Hitchens from the sideline rather than showing him how its done on the field.
After the session, Broaddus served up a plateful of practice observations. This one caught my eye:
Where Lawrence was able to make some headway against Smith was not so much with quick pass rush moves but some actual brute force. Lawrence stayed active and worked hard to fight up the upfield shoulder of Smith – then, when he became engaged, he was able to push Smith off balance, which caused him to become overextended and off balance. This made Smith have to reach for him as he went by him.
In recent years one of the most eagerly anticipated training camp battles had been DeMarcus Ware going one-on-one against Tyron Smith. We can only hope that Lawrence vs. Smith proves to be nearly as titanic and evenly matched.
In a story that is likely to undergo many changes over the course of the offseason, the Cowboys began the process of rebuilding their defensive line with the following lineup:
The only starter from last year here is Hayden, but this is by no means permanent; the article mentions that McClain is subbing for Henry Melton, who is expected to be the starter at RDT (3-tech), and I'd expect there to be a good deal of shuffling as Rod Marinelli tries out myriad combinations.
As with all the players coming off of injuries, Melton participated in individual drills but was held out of the more boisterous team session - a pattern that, as the headline suggests, will continue until training camp.
Joining Melton on the sideline was 2012 first-rounder Claiborne. Later, Jason Garrett told reporters that his absence was only a precautionary measure; he participated in individual drills but was being held out of team period to avoid the kind of situations where he might fight for a ball and become tangled up with another player. Apparently, his injuries haven't hampered his work in the offseason program; Claiborne has labored to become leaner and quicker. Certainly, his mind seems right:
I’ve got big dreams. Where my mind is for this season, it’s really unbelievable.
Of course the top story to emerge from Tuesday's OTA practice was Sean Lee
According to Eatman, people close to Lee report that he has a torn anterior cruciate ligament, which typically has a six to eight month recovery time. This will, for all intents and purposes, put Lee on injured reserve for all of the 2014 season.
I'll let Brandon Carr speak for his teammates:
You don't want to see that, especially on Day 1 of OTA.
Several former teammates chimed in as well:
Prayers up for Sean Lee get well brother— marcus spears (@mspear96) May 27, 2014
We can always rely on Archer to offer a unique take. Here, he points out that the team has just entered "Phase 3" of the offseason, during which they can meet with coaches and engage in drills, but with no pads or live contact. Nevertheless, Archer points out, its football, which is a contact sport, even when the rules forbid contact. Just ask Bears receiver Domenik Hixon, who also tore his ACL yesterday, on the first day of OTAs. That's the third ACL tear of his career, and almost certainly a career-ender.
As a wise man once told me, "football hurts."
|2013 (Cowboys): Missed five games. Suffered hamstring injury Nov. 10 at New Orleans, missed two games; Suffered neck injury Dec. 9 at Chicago, missed three games.|
|2012 (Cowboys): Missed 10 games. Suffered toe injury Oct. 21 at Carolina.|
|2011 (Cowboys): Missed one game. Suffered a partially dislocated wrist Oct. 30 at Philadelphia, missed one game but returned and played most of the season with a cast/club for protection.|
|2010 (Cowboys): Missed two games. Hamstring injury.|
|2009 (Penn State): Missed three games with sprained knee.|
|2008 (Penn State): Missed his senior season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament suffered in non-contact drills in spring practice.|
Yes, but none of them inspire tremendous confidence. There are in-house candidates as well as veterans such as Rocky MacIntosh and Johnathan Vilma. My takeaway from the piece? Please, Lord, anybody but Ernie Sims.
Also, our resident insider, Birddog26, offered up thee street free agents as possible candidates, none of whom are "clean":
Hitchens was quite clear with reporters: although he was drafted in the fourth round specifically as injury insurance for the brittle Lee, he's not ready to jump in and replace him just yet:
The tempo with the 1s was a little faster, so it just shows me that I’m not where I need to be right now and I need to still get better.
The good news is that he has the rest of the offseason and all of training camp to prepare. Go hit that playbook, kid!
A second common Tuesday storyline was the situation at quarterback:
The diminutive Helman, known to his fellow DC.com scribes as "Tiny Jim," offered a short piece (see what I did there) on Romo's partial participation in Tuesday's work. The Cowboys QB is on a gradually-increasing "pitch count," and was held out of the faster, more frenetic team period.
When guys aren’t here, those are missed opportunities...we want all our football players here practicing with their teammates and trying to get better.
In Romo's and Orton's absence, former Browns first-rounder Brandon Weeden has a chance to sling it around the yard and, more importantly, to breathe again after Cleveland's suffocating environment. Easing the transition is the fact that he's re-united with several former Oklahoma State teammates: place-kicker Dan Bailey, wide receiver Dez Bryant, linebacker Orie Lemon and running back Joseph Randle.
And a couple of tidbits to conclude your morning reading...
In typically excellent article totally unrelated to OTAs, Bob Sturm offers the next installment in his draft profile series with a look at fifth-rounder Devin Street. The Sturminator spends a lot of column inches comparing the former Pitt Panther wideout to recently-departed Miles Austin, especially his work in the slot:
He runs very strong routes and looks like he can be a multi-faceted receiver who will grow into a strong pro. If he really is all that we think, we will be wondering how he fell through to the 5th round. Generally, receivers that fall this far in the draft have some major warts, but there doesn't seem to be much not to like about him and honestly, he does look like a young Miles Austin in many respects. Not all of the tools are the same, but their abilities allow them to plug Street in a similar spot that Miles would play when he was healthy in the last few years.
If he can approach Austin circa 2009, I'll be a very happy Rabble indeed...After all, we all need a bit of good news, right?