Full pads returned for the second consecutive practice this morning, and the offense posted its most impressive workout of the still-short camp. The Cowboys worked extensively on 3rd down conversion and Tony Romo's group was close to unstoppable, against the 2nd and the 1st team defenses, demonstrating that the offensive guys have caught up, and quicklly, with their defensive counterparts.
The morning workouts saw strong performances from a couple of the redshirt second year players. Jason Williams continues his solid play at linebacker. The most encouraging workout came from second year RT Robert Brewster, suggesting that all he lacks are repetitions.
The practice again began with approximately half an hour of punt coverage work. Today, Joe DeCamillis began by integrating his gunners and his blockers and worked on their initial blocks, their downfield release and surrounding the returner. This extends from yesterday's workout, which only focused on blocking at the line of scrimmage. DeCamillis is creeping the coverage work a bit down the field every day. I expect that sometime soon, he will start to work on returns. This week at least, its all about coverage.
The offense then worked on a series of red-zone passes, from a blizzard of formations. After working against air, the offense and defensive groups met in the far red zone for another 9-on-9 session, where only running plays were called.
The usual suspects performed well, and some surprising ones stepped up. Doug Free continues his strong early camp, with some edge clearing blocks on tosses and bend counters to his side. A suddenly spry Montrae Holland also contributed some good blocks, working backup Leon Williams upfield before planting him in the turf.
The 2nd offensive line had a strong sequence against the 1st team defensive front, as OT Alex Barron and Robert Brewster and the aforementioned Holland stood out.
After a short break the Cowboys reprised a drill from the Parcells days, running a series of 3rd down plays with down and distance markers changed after every play. The team would practice a 3rd-and-8, then a 3rd-and-3, then a 3rd-and-10 and so on.
Romo and the 1st offense started 5 for 7 in the drill, and would have converted a sixth play had Kevin Ogletree not dropped a pass off a square-in route. The first offensive line gave Romo consistent protection working against the 1st defensive nickel unit.
Jon Kitna brought the second offense on and continued to convert, going 5 for 6 against the 1st and 2nd nickel. Of note in this sequence was Brewter, who stopped Anthony Spencer on an early pass, then flopped to left tackle at teh end of the drill and stoned an Orlando Scandrick corner blitz.
The overall play sagged a bit when the 3rd offense came on, especially when it faced the 1st team D. The rookie OTs Barker and Young were over-matched and protection broke down quickly. Still, it was a solid day for the first and the second team offensive lines. The emerging depth there has to make the organization cautiously optimistic.
-- Good morning for Robert Brewster. He got movement on running plays to his side. He offered his best and most consistent pass protection in this camp, regardless of whether he faced Curtis Johnson, Marcus Spears, Sean Lissemore or Anthony Spencer. We must remember that he didn't play a single down in last year's camp and has not participated in full contact since his senior year at Ball State. He's rusty, but the rust appears to be dropping off. I would like to see more consistency practice-to-practice before I get too high on his prospects, but today's work was much more encouraging than yesterday's one-good, one-bad sequences.
-- He's Faster, Example 42: Jason Witten ripped past Jason Williams on an intermediate in route in the 11-on-11s today. It's not that Witten beat Williams, but how he did it. Witten was a good two big steps beyond Dallas fasted ILB. I maintain Witten looks a step faster this summer.
-- Trickeration City -- The Cowboys practiced some trick plays for red zone formations today. I don't want to give away any state secrets, but Felix Jones and Marion Barber each did funky things. Sometimes the backs did crazy things together.
-- Josh Brent returned to the field today, but watched the workouts in jersey and shorts. He had a large wrapped cast on his left hand, which left his fingers exposed. I spoke to a hand surgeon last evening who told me that if Brent had a fracture and not a displaced metacarpal, he can return soon with the hand in a wrapped splint, because the fracture is surrounded by ligaments and muscle, which provide stability. If the broken bone were displaced, Brent would require surgery. The healing time on this type of injury is six weeks or so. Seeing Brent's wrapped hand suggests that he'll be back on the field soon.
-- BDAO Winner, Morning Edition: Sean Lissemore. The coaches are moving him up and down the line and he hasn't found a spot where he looks comfortable. Kyle Kosier planted him one one of the 11-on-11 downs.
-- A word of advice to the good folks bombarding us with David Buehler questions. Calm down. Dallas has drilled twice this week on field goals. Yesterday, they worked a bit on blocking for Buehler. He kicked a grand total of four balls, all between 25 and 32 yards in distance. My vantage point did not allow me to see if he was accurate or not.
It's moot anyway. What matters are his kicks in live games. If he's perfect in practices and shanks or pushes his pre-season game kicks, he'll have to be replaced. You'll be able to assess those kicks yourself, assuming you're in Cowboys TV network range.