Coach Wade Phillips gave what I thought was an unusually candid press conference on Friday that touched on many players and themes that we have been discussing here over the last few weeks.
Coach Phillips talked at length about depth on the O-line, how some of the younger players on defense are progressing and a new role for Miles Austin. And about Dez Bryant of course.
The full press conference can be found at DallasCowboys.com, but I thought it would be worth transcribing parts of what Coach Phillips said and open it up for discussion on this board.
(Disclaimer: This recap is a very close verbatim transcript of what Coach Phillips said, but isn't vetted for total accuracy. I have occasionally shortened parts and have not written down every single word, but I did try to get across the intended meaning on the topics of interest. Occasionally, what I've typed may lose the context of something Coach Phillips said and may appear counter-intuitive. If you have questions about something from the press conference, feel free to ask in the comments or watch the presser yourself.)
The defense is looking good:
"Defensively, our first group was playing really well. Brooking did real well coming back. When that group is in there with Marcus Spears and Jay Ratliff and the whole group, they look awfully good right now. [Keith Brooking] was flying around. I told him he had fresh legs. He said: 'At 34, nobody has fresh legs'."
Expectations are high for Anthony Spencer:
"Anthony Spencer knows what to do now. He's comfortable and he's a really smart guy. He doesn't make many mistakes at all. He was a force in the second half of the year. He was one of the best players we had in the second half, and we had a lot of good players. We expect him to keep going from that point. He's doing what we expect of him, and we expect a whole lot of him."
Brandon Williams can expect some playing time:
"He's looked good so far. He's done a good job so far in the rush technique. We were excited about him last year at this time, and he looks like he's taken up where he left off last year. He's a little stronger across the top which I think is going to help him. He's very quick off the ball and has a good pass rush feeling. I think he's learned the techniques that we're trying to teach, so I feel good about him. We will put him in the game and see how he does. If he can be a force, if he can be a guy that can not only hold up but maybe do more than that, we'll play him more."
Victor Butler still has work to do:
"Victor Butler is coming along. I think his techniques are getting better. His pass coverage is getting better. He's still got to work on his pass rush. Sometime he does real well and we saw that last year, and y'all didn't see the times he didn't do well because he didn't get there. He has a certain knack, but he's got to keep working his techniques as far as pass rush is concerned, but I think he's made a step forward as an outside backer as far as coverages and run play and those kinds of things."
Alan Ball is doing real well in the safety spot:
"Alan Ball has adjusted well [to the safety position] and is playing it well now. His angles and stuff are safety angles, you know, it's just different angles at safety than at corner. His overlap is just outstanding. He has a real knack for certain routes, being able to overlap them but also having a feel for where there's a guy threatening down the middle and not leaving the middle too early. I think he's doing real well."
None of the backup corners further down the depth chart have stood out so far:
"With Orlando Scandrick out it's given them [Marquis Floyd, Cletis Gordon, Bryan McCann, Jamar Wall] more work. We've had guys who've been up and down. Inconsistent you'd have to say, although they have shown some good things and that's the positive thing. Nobody's stood our more than anybody else. But almost all of them have possibilities of playing."
High hopes for Akwasi Owusu-Ansah and no concerns about his learning curve once he gets on the field:
"I think he's going to be fine. It's just going to be about getting out on the field and doing it, and seeing what he can't do. We think he can do a lot of things. We know he can run fast and he has good change of direction, those kind of things."
"I said when we interviewed him that he was smarter than a lot of the guys that were drafted ahead of him - some of them in the 1st and 2nd round - I thought he was sharper as far as giving him a situation and him being able to repeat it back, or giving him a situation and asking 'If this happens, what would you do? And if that happens, what would you do?' He was a lot better than a lot of the guys taken ahead of him so I have high hopes that he'll be able to transfer it to the field."
"We thought all along that he'd play corner also. I think we'll start him out at safety because the safety does have to know what the corners do and corners don't have to know what the safety does."
O-Line and Kyle Kosier being the backup center:
"Kosier being a backup center fits well with what we have right now. We'd like to take seven [O-linemen] into the game, and we did use Procter as a backup center last year and we had a backup tackle. This kind of gives you a center/guard extra guy where Montrae Holland (because I think Montrae was good enough to play last year but we couldn't bring him to the ballgame unless we brought eight to the game) gets a chance there and it also gives you a chance to have that tackle - tackle and a guard - backup going into a game, rather than just one guy backing up."
"Once [Kosier] feels comfortable there - he is a veteran player, he knows all the calls and all those things - that's not a real problem. It's just the execution of the snap to the quarterback and it's a little bit different blocking a guy, although he has a guy on his head in a 4-3 all the time. If we play a 3-4 team it might be a little different for him, but not a whole lot."
Travis Bright is exceptionally strong:
"Travis Bright had been playing guard and we're training him to be a backup center/guard player. He's been playing guard, he knew what to do at guard and now we want to get him some snaps at center. Maybe he can play that position for us. He's a real strong player. Exceptionally strong. And I think that really helps him at center."
Tony Romo is being his old self:
"I thought Tony looked good this afternoon. He's been doing pretty well, but we put more on him, more game situations, and I thought he reacted pretty well. He made quite a few good throws and ran the team with no penalties that I could see."
Everything is fine with Dez Bryant:
"Dez Bryant was back today in this afternoon's practice. I do want to make it clear that he hadn't asked to get out of anything. We're the ones who took him out when he said his hamstring was sore. He said he could come back two days ago and we said 'No, we're going to keep working you on the side'. You're not getting out of anything if you're working with Britt Brown, I can tell you that. [...] It's probably harder working with [Britt Brown] than it is out on the field."
"Dez did all the rehab stuff and then he was with Ray [Sherman] and every play, he knew what the play was. In fact, he was telling Ray what he was supposed to do on each play. So he didn't miss anything. All of our guys know what the play is. They have to get mental reps too. It's part of being part of the team and knowing what to do and some of the guys that don't get to play very much know what to do."
"Even Akwasi knows what to do right now. So when they get on the field they know what to do and they can go out and do it. That's part of our philosophy: We demand that they know what every play is and be able to repeat it if we ask them."
A new role for Miles Austin?
"Miles Austin has done really well. He's a star receiver. You ask about those other guys but it's the same with Miles: He takes it all in stride. He keeps working at what he's doing. He tries to get better every play. He's trying to do his best every play, and his best is very, very good. We're getting on the same page with some back shoulder throws with him."
"He's playing the slot quite a bit, and I think he's going to be tremendously dangerous in the slot. With he and Witten, both kind of playing slot, putting one on one side and one on the inside, players like that, they're both hard to cover."
On why Austin is so good in the slot:
"He's an outstanding receiver. He's got the quickness and the speed and also the learning ability, he's got all of it. Same things that make him good on the outside make him good on the inside."
"A lot of times [the opponents'] nickel guy is their 3rd corner. That may be a good match-up, although he [Austin] also matches up well on the outside. We see a lot of doubles on Witten. Teams that try to take Witten out of the game, you know, you've got to have other positions to take advantage of that."
**** Other potent quotables ****
Keith Brooking on the Cowboys drafting his potential successors: "They were drafted to someday take my spot. I mean, jeez, I’ve been hit in the head a lot, but I haven’t been hit that much."
Patrick Crayton on his weight: "I'm a lot leaner than I was last year. You know, Roy's messing with me because he said I look like I'm on crack because I'm slimmer. So I said ' Dude, I appreciate that compliment because that means you know you're a little bit more chunky than I am.'"