Full pads were back today, as the Cowboys held their closest practice to an old Jimmy Johnson-style body slammer, drilling extensively on goal line offense and defense. The rotations created perhaps the most first offense versus first defense action we've seen thus far.
Contrary to early report, Tony Romo did participate in practice, though his throwing was very limited. Most of the goal-line passing plays were called for backups Jon Kitna and Stephen McGee.
Back to Basics
Joe DeCamillis used the opening act to take his special teams units back to their initial workouts. He drilled them on punt coverage again, stressing the releases for his blockers and sustaining blocks by the returners in the middle of the field. The first drill showed how fine grained DeCamillis works; he understands that the blockers in the middle of any punt coverage team may drop at least five yards from the line of scrimmage to sustain blocks, but then have to release cleanly and quickly upfield once the ball has been kicked. DeCamillis made sure his men knew the proper shoulder around which to release and the way to keep their upfield charges from being impeded.
Dallas then worked on field goals, with David Buehler going 4-for-6 today, with makes at 48 and 50 yards and a drill-ending miss from 53. Your first kick-blocking team, from edge to edge:
Witten, Colombo, Brewster, Gurode, Ladouceur, Davis, Free, Kosier, Phillips, with McBriar holding.
The rest of the session was devoted to short-yardage and to goal-line plays. The first began with the ball placed on the 40, and the team ran through a sequence of 3rd-and-short situations. The first offense got a good and consistent push and won most of these matchups. They were facing the 2nd defense on most of the downs. The roles were then swapped, with the 2nd offense taking on the 1st defense, with the defense taking the majority of downs. When the first O met the first D, the ratio was closer to 50:50, but the offense still won more than they lost.
The ball was then taken to the three yard line, and the drill was repeated. The hitting was live, and hard and for the first time all summer the units held a sustained, full contact drill with tackling.
Standout player? How about Jay Ratliff, who emerged from one inside scrum flexing one of his legs. Junior Siavii ran on to sub Ratliff out but the starter waved him off. Ratliff dug in and then stuffed a double team on an inside dive, allowing Anthony Spencer to shoot in from the edge and stop the runner for no gain.
At that point, Ratliff left the field -- on his terms.
-- Josh Brent returned in full pads today. He spent about 10-15 minutes prior to the workout at the far blocking sled, where lien coach Paul Pasqualoni drilled Brent on proper first steps and getting across the face of centers. Brent wears number 78 and has the same high-cut, thick-in-the-middle frame that Leon Lett did. He's got Leon's quickness too. Brent has a lot to show before we compare him to Lett's game.
-- Mr. Fantastics. This may be the most limber Cowboys team I've seen. In past years, some greybeards would find ways to cut corners on stretching. Back in '04, it was clear that Larry Allen's legs were shot, when he would stretch one leg and then stay on it while the rest of the team switched to the other leg. At Oxnard, I always saw a few big grunts who did not give their all to loosening up.
Here, there are no loafers. Igor Olshanky? A 315 pound rubber band.
-- Quote of the day: "Finish the damn thing! We shouldn't have to do this every time!" Special teams coach Joe DeCamillis, urging his return blockers to work until the whistle. Dave Campo and Reggie Herring can be shrill, but D may take the crown. He was standing at one 15 yard line when he said this. I was sitting at the 50, at the top row below the press box, and heard him loud and clear above the murmur of the crowd. You don't want to get on D's bad side, cause you'll hear about it.
-- They make the extraordinary ordinary, part II: While the offense and defense were working on goal-line plays, Ray Sherman took his receivers to the 50 and had them practice catching balls which were thrown directly over their heads. Sherman showed great skill in dropping pass after pass into the receivers bread baskets. When the wideouts showed they could handle these throws, Sherman upped the ante, asking each of them to make over the shoulder grabs one handed. By drill's end, half of these throws were being completed.
You may ooh on game day when catches like this are made, but understand that the players practice catches like this -- a lot. They're trying to make the extraordinary ordinary.
-- Montrae Holland sat out his second consecutive workout, giving rookie UFA Mike Tepper work with the 2nd unit at left guard. Tepper has perhaps the best shot of all the third unit linemen at making the team. He's another rookie lineman to watch closely Sunday night.