So after two weeks and 18 practices, these are my observations on the Cowboys offense going into tonight's preseason game with Seattle. The defense's review will follow later.
Drew Bledsoe hasn't been impressive in camp, but again, like I said last week, I'm not overly concerned. He's Drew Bledsoe, you pretty much know what you're going to get. More interesting was watching Tony Romo and Drew Henson. There's been some debate about Romo's arm strength; from what I saw, that's not an issue. He was able to make the throws required of an NFL QB, and is able to mix in bullet passes with touch passes. He makes quick decisions and gets the ball out of the pocket before the 2.5 second buzzer they were using on most occasions, faster then either Bledsoe or Henson. If you watch him in practice, you'd think he has potential, so it will be interesting to see him under game conditions tonight.
Drew Henson is frustrating. When you look at him he seems to be the prototype for a QB, he's big, mobile and has a very strong arm. In drills, when he's just throwing to receivers, he throws a very nice ball. Up to that point in practice, you're impressed. But when he gets into actual game-type situations, he can be very erratic. His decision-making process is kind of slow, and his passes can vary from good to awful. He also doesn't show good feel for when to hum the ball in and when to take something off of it. Under the correct conditions and the right mentor, he might become NFL quality, but as of right now, Romo is the QB you'd want in the game if Bledsoe went down.
Julius Jones has looked quick in camp and has done nothing to make me believe he won't have a good season. Training camp practices aren't the best venue for watching Jones though, you don't get to see him in the open field much, and the runs are usually blown dead after the initial burst through the line. Marion Barber gets to show off a little more in camp because of his receiving skills and during the scrimmage he showed all facets of his game. It's not that I wasn't impressed with Jones, but I was more impressed by Barber, probably because of the expectation level I had going into camp. They both bring a lot to the field and compliment each other's skill sets in a way that will allow Parcells to utilize them consistently throughout games.
Tyson Thompson seemed to get better as camp wore on. At the start of camp he didn't have the feel for the hole; he wasn't displaying that innate RB vision that all the greats at the position have. But the more repetitions he got, especially when he ran with the first team, the better he looked as a RB and not just a special teams guy. His speed is undeniable, so if he ever picks up on the nuances of the RB position, he could be a valuable reserve. Keylon Kincade showed me a little something in practice, but I don't think it was enough to dislodge Thompson from the #3 spot on the depth chart. I can't say that he will make it on an NFL roster, but he looked better than I expected going into camp. Demtrius Summers is practice squad material if anything, so if you were expecting some kind miracle camp from him that would shoot him up the charts; I'm pretty sure that's not going to happen.
Terrell Owens has been absent from practice for the last week and Terry Glenn has had what I would term a "quiet camp" so far, but much like Bledsoe, you know what you're getting from those two. The two best receivers in camp over the first weeks were hands-down, Patrick Crayton and Sam Hurd. This isn't even a debate. Crayton started early in camp and never let up. Displaying fantastic hands, he was also running good routes that were allowing him to get open often, leading to numerous catches almost everyday of practice. He might be a star in the making, the kid we were so excited about before his injury. In some ways, Sam Hurd is almost a Crayton clone. This UDFA came out of nowhere to stun observers of camp, catching almost every single ball thrown his way. He's doesn't have blazing speed by any stretch of the imagination, but has the quickness to get open, and he got open a lot. Whether in traffic, or having to makes adjustments for the ball, once his hands got hold of the pigskin, they weren't letting go. Of all the players, he's at the top of my list for players to watch in preseason games, to see if he can match his spectacular practices.
Skyler Green hasn't shown much in the receiver department, so he better be really special on special teams. He has to show Parcells that he's worthy of a roster spot just based on his return game, because you don't want to rely on him as a WR. Jamaica Rector is an interesting talent, but his big problem is consistency, one day he'll wow you with some great grabs, the next day he's dropping easy passes. Terrance Copper just doesn't have the hands for an NFL WR, and he's not especially strong in route-running, so he could be in trouble on the roster if Hurd continues his amazing run. J.R. Tolver is essentially a camp body. UDFA Miles Austin hasn't showed me enough in camp to give me any reason to believe he'll stick around much longer.
Jason Witten is still the man at the TE position and has had a pretty good camp. You guys already know about him. Anthony Fasano is a deft receiver; he has soft hands and has the ability to consistently get open against the linebackers and safeties. But after being amazed by his passing game prowess early in camp, I started to watch his blocking skills more closely. He has a ways to go in that area. In 1-on-1 drills with the OLB's he came out on the losing end pretty regularly and struggled on occasion in the 11-on-11 drills in this area. It's to be expected by a rookie being thrown in against the likes of DeMarcus Ware and Greg Ellis, but it's something to keep note of as we move closer to the regular season.
Ryan Hannam showed his best asset, blocking, to good effect in camp, but wasn't particularly strong in the passing game. Lousaka Polite has taken to the change in position pretty well, and could be a valuable player because of his versatility. He wasn't bad in filling out the traditional TE role, surprising me with his ability to catch the ball downfield, as opposed to his catching of balls mainly behind the line last year as a FB. He also can be used as a short-yardage back, so he can fill a few different roles on the team. I'm guessing he'll make the final roster, and I didn't feel that way going into camp. Tony Curtis is a guy who has made a good case for himself in camp, catching a ton of balls in the 11-on-11 drills. He seems to have developed a nice chemistry with Tony Romo, and could make the team if he can show something in special teams, or he may be put on the practice squad. Sean Ryan can make some devastating blocks, but hasn't been that impressive in camp and is probably in trouble in terms of sticking around, although Parcells really seems to like the kid.
Andre Gurode has been a beast in camp. I've watched him physically manhandle all three nose tackles pretty regularly throughout camp. Of all the linemen, I think he has had the best camp, and if he can conquer the mental aspects of being the center, there's no way he won't start the season as the #1. Al Johnson, physically, can't compete with Gurode, it's not even close, and so unless Gurode does something to drive Parcells insane, Johnson will be the backup center.
At RT, it's been a revolving door as to who starts with the 1st team on any given day. Rob Petitti has looked better in camp than he did last year in the regular season, but in truth, I haven't seen anything to make me think that he's the guy. Sure, he physically looks to be in good shape, but sometimes his technique leads him to become unbalanced at the point of attack, so he still gets beat on occasion. Marc Colombo has had days in camp when you're sure he's the guy, when he's just physically dominating the competition. But he also has moments like in the beginning of the scrimmage when he got beat like a drum. But if you ask me, he has had the best camp so far of the RT's. Jason Fabini started really slow, and looked like a veteran whose time was over. But during the 2nd week of camp he started to look better and showed some great run-blocking skills. In pass blocking, he's still getting beat to the inside on a regular basis, but he looks to be rounding into form and should provide depth at RT, but I'm backing off my pre-camp prediction that he would win the job.
Over at LT, Flozell Adams struggled badly with his recovery from the ACL injury, and had a lot of us a little nervous about how he would respond in the early part of the season. Those fears I think can be put to rest, in the 2nd week we started to see more of the old Flozell and by regular season he should be good to go. 7th round draft pick Pat McQuistan has turned some heads in camp backing up Flozell. McQ is a big kid, who is just now starting to fill out his enormous frame, and has had days when he flashed big-time potential. Still, being a rookie, he also gets beat as regularly as he wins, but he looks promising. The Cowboys are going to want to do whatever they can to keep this kid around.
At guard, Kyle Kosier and Marco Rivera have both had solid camps. Besides the one day when Rivera got beat badly by Jay Ratliff, he's looked better than the guy who played last year. Kosier isn't the mauler that Larry Allen was, but he has allayed some of my fears that he wasn't going to be strong enough to deal with the big boys in the middle of the line. He's flashed his mobility on occasion, the one thing he definitely has over Allen, so while I'm not totally convinced yet, he does look like he will at least be a solid contributor. As for the backup guards, I would say that Corey Procter has played a little better than Stephen Peterman, and if somehow it comes down to a numbers game at guard, Peterman may be the odd-man out. But in reality, I think they'd like to keep both.
Guys like Dennis Roland, Matt Tarullo, and Anthony Batiste won't be on the 53-man roster, but maybe one of them will slip onto the practice squad.
I'll have my review of the defense up later today or tomorrow.