It's been a heck of a week out here in Oxnard, and I've enjoyed every minute of it. The weather truly is marvelous and the Cowboys training camp affords the fan an opportunity to witness our heroes up close. Truly a wonderful experience.
I've been to every practice - 12 so far by my count - and you guys have been reading my very dry, technical transcripts of what I've seen. I hope you've enjoyed them. But since it's Sunday and it's an off-day for the team, I decided now would be a good time to write my opinions and thoughts on the team and the players. I'm starting with the offense and then will move to the defense in a second post later today. Keep in my mind that this is only one week into practice, so by next Sunday I could be singing a whole different tune on some of these players.
I might as well start with the position that seems to get the most heated debate in the Cowboys world, the QB. Not specifically Drew Bledsoe, but the back-up QB situation which can ignite the fires of impassioned fans. So let me dismiss the Bledsoe review quickly: It's true he's had an uneven camp so far, but after a decade plus of watching the guy lead NFL teams, I'm confident that by season's start he will be in fine form.
Now for the Romo vs. Henson debate. Going into camp I was unsure about both. Readers of my blog know that I said after watching Henson in NFLE I thought he had a chance to push Romo for the #2 spot in training camp. Now that I've watched both in person for a week, I'm not sure that he will, but that's only because I've seen Romo now, whereas before he was pretty much a mystery to me. My take on Romo is that he makes his reads quicker and gets the ball out quicker than Henson, and he also seems to hit the receivers in a better position (i.e. the hands) while Henson makes his receivers work a little more to catch the ball. Henson, on the other hand, is pretty mobile and makes the better throws on the run, during roll-outs and bootlegs. Romo is a more consistent QB on a day to day basis while Henson can be really good one day and really bad the next.
In the final analysis, I'm still not sure either is ready to lead the team for an extended time period. But I do think Romo is ahead of Henson right now, not in physical talent, but just in running the offense and being a steady performer.
Julius Jones and Marion Barber are not that far apart in terms of being 1st team material. Barber is more versatile, no surprise there, and in RB vs. LB coverage drills he consistently runs excellent routes and shows great hands. Julius doesn't do too badly in those drills either. Julius is the more pure runner and definitely is the home run threat. Parcells is just going to have make time for both on the field.
The #3 spot has come down to a battle between Keylon Kincade and Tyson Thompson. Coach Parcells is giving Kincade equal reps with Thompson; my guess is to see what he really has in the kid before making his decision. Kincade has come on strong over the last few days of practice and this is a real battle. Thompson is still lining up as a kickoff returner, so he might get the edge because of special teams. Demetrius Summers has shown some skills in camp, but his reps are limited and I can't see him as anything more than a practice squad player this year.
Ah yes, the offensive line, which has been the subject of much speculation. I didn't know anything about Marc Colombo going into camp, other than what I read about him; that he was first-round talent until he got injured. The first few days I didn't notice anything special about him, until about mid-week when he had a spectacular practice. At the time I thought that Parcells might elevate him to 1st string and sure enough, the next day he was lining up as the 1st string RT. He's been entrenched there ever since and I'm really beginning to believe he might win the starting position over Petitti.
Petitti has been shuffled around all over the place during camp. He started on the 1st unit at RT, then was shuffled down to the 3rd unit for a few days before shifting to 1st unit LT the past couple of days. I'm starting to come to the conclusion that Parcells may be settling on Colombo at RT and wants Petitti to be the swing tackle, so he's getting him reps at both left and right tackle. As for Petitti's performance in camp so far, it's been OK but it hasn't made me confident that he's made great leaps from last year. Physically, though, he looks to be in great shape.
Flozell Adams in some respects gets a pass for the first week. It's obvious that his knee is not fully healed yet, so we'll just have to wait and see if he rounds into form over the next couple of weeks. He has been getting beat badly by Ware on some speed rushes in drills, so getting Petitti work at LT is a contingency plan in my opinion.
Andre Gurode has simply looked better than Al Johnson in practice. It's hard for me to judge the mental aspect of his performance because I can't hear what the coaches are saying to him about his line calls and being in the right place in the protection schemes. But in the physical part of the game, he's clearly outplayed Johnson. I see no reason why he won't start unless there are things he's doing with the mental aspect that are displeasing the coaches.
Kyle Kosier and Marco Rivera are going to start at left and right guard. They have not moved from those positions since the first day of practice. Kosier is mobile, I've seen him pull on some plays and he does that nicely, and I haven't seen him get overwhelmed on bull-rushes and the like often. I think he'll be alright. Rivera is looking pretty good; we may be getting the guy we signed back instead of the guy we saw last year. Stephen Peterman and Corey Procter are serviceable, but nothing spectacular. Pat McQuistan, forever known to me as McQ from now on, has done better than I thought, given his status coming into the camp. But at this point of his NFL career, he's a rookie and looks the part. Some days good, some days really bad.
Jason Fabini has looked anywhere from average to bad. He's done nothing special, and if he wasn't a veteran who's had a pretty good career and a Parcells Guy, I wouldn't think twice about the possibility of him being cut. But since he is a vet and he's coming off injury, it just might be taking him a little longer to round into form. I think the next week and the pre-season game are going to be critical for him.
Anthony Fasano is a player. He runs good routes and has the hands to make a difference. They use him a lot in the H-back role, he's often the one who goes in motion and settles into the "FB" role in the backfield. He has a ways to go in his blocking, DeMarcus Ware has been seen abusing him on occasion, but Ware abuses a lot of people. This was a good draft pick for Dallas, and down the road we will love the Witten/Fasano combination. Witten has been Witten in camp, so I won't even bother to discuss him.
Lousaka Polite is making a real push to make the roster. In the offseason I kind of wrote him off as a roster casualty, but I'm revising that opinion. He has shown pretty good hands in the passing game, much better than I thought. Parcells has also been lining him up as a tailback at the goal line and in short-yardage situations and he has produced. It would be no surprise to me if he makes the roster, especially since Brett Pierce is done.
Another guy who's opened my eyes is Tony Curtis. He consistently shows up in my notes as making catches in 11-on-11 drills. The battle for the 4th TE is fierce right now with Polite, Curtis and Sean Ryan. Since we're running the 2-TE set regularly, is it possible Parcells will keep 5 TE's on the 53-man roster? This is an interesting position to watch.
Terrell Owens is a Cowboy now, in case you hadn't heard. I'm not even going to waste your time evaluating all that. Terry Glenn is also a Cowboy. Let's just move right into Patrick Crayton. He's having a great camp. You guys probably read my story that had Parcells telling him he's on fire one day in practice, and Crayton saying "I know I am, Coach". Well, it's true; he's had a great camp and is firmly entrenched as the 3rd WR.
After that, it gets dicey. Terrance Copper is usually pretty quiet in the practices. I haven't noticed him doing much in the 11-on-11 drills although he did have a couple of catches in the scrimmage. We know that Parcells likes him for his special teams skills but will that be enough for him to make the roster? Skyler Green usually runs with the 3rd unit of WR's in practice, so I don't think Parcells is counting on him to be a WR per se, he's obviously much more interested in his return skills. Since they don't do live returns in practice, I haven't been able to evaluate that part of his game yet. He did make a great TD catch to end the scrimmage yesterday so maybe he wants to make a push with Parcells for some playing time there.
Jamaica Rector actually does show up in the 11-on-11 drills and has also been working on punt returns. He's trying to make a case for himself on the roster and stands an outside chance of getting there. I wouldn't bet my money on J.R. Tolver making it and Miles Austin hasn't done enough to make me think he will end up on the roster, either.
Yes, I saved Sam Hurd for last. The guy has been a revelation in camp. Even before the two circus catches he made in the scrimmage, he has consistently produced in the training camp practices. The Cowboys have to find a way to keep this guy on the roster. I know it's only one week and we've seen rookies burn brightly for a short time then burn out, but there's something about this kid that says he's going to make it in this league. If he keeps it up this coming week, Parcells is going to have a hard decision about what to do with him.
That's it for the offense. If I've left out somebody your interested in just ask me in the comments section and I will tell you what I know. I'll be working on an evaluation of the defense next and hope to have it up in a few hours.