Dez Bryant lit up camp once again today and had one of the best catches in camp to date: a one-handed leaping catch over Orlando Scandrick. Calvin Watkins from ESPN Dallas reported that Dez Bryant has only dropped two passes in camp so far, and that's not hard to believe. Bryant showed up in the best shape of his life and he is playing like a man possessed.
In his midday press conference Garrett said Bryant without a shirt "looks chiseled out of a mountain," and Bryant is putting that athleticism to work on the field in Oxnard. With Claiborne out of the picture with some kind of knee injury, all corners not named Carr were no match for Bryant today. Bryant outplayed them all with a mixture of power, elegance and confidence that makes him exhilarating to watch.
Yet as good as Dez Bryant is, his performance also highlights one of the issues that we as fans have with reports (including mine right here) from training camp. When you read reports that this or that guy made a nice catch or a nice block or even had a would-be-sack, that by itself often doesn’t mean much, because it doesn’t account for the quality of competition, and by that I don't mean just the opponent faced in that particular situation.
What many training camp reports fail to properly convey is just how much better a player like Dez Bryant is versus the other players in his position group.
A little furher down this post we'll take a look at some of the players battling for the remaining wide receiver spots. In this battle, there’s bound to be one player who emerges as the best option compared to the other wide receivers. But regardless of who emerges there, there’s going to be a world of difference between that player and the likes of Bryant and Miles Austin. That player might be called the third wide receiver (if the Cowboys don’t bring in a veteran) but he won’t be anywhere close to the top two guys in his abilities.
That’s one of the key takeaways for me from camp: A lot of the performances we’re seeing in camp, while impressive in their own right, look downright pedestrian compared to what the stars on the team or doing.
So far, that difference in position groups is most pronounced at WR and CB. At wide receiver, Austin and Bryant are quite literally in a class of their own. At cornerback, nobody touches Brandon Carr. And while Claiborne is not in Carr’s class yet, he is -despite a lot of criticism being voiced in some quarters - already the second best corner on the team.
That difference is not as pronounced in other position groups. For some positions this is a good thing (at TE, John Phillips looks almost scarily like a Witten clone) at others it isn’t (is Barry Church really having a great camp, or is he just the best of what is available?).
Context can be very important. If CB Isaac Madison records a PBU versus WR Tim Benford, that doesn’t automatically make Madison a lock for the 53-man roster.
In a similar vein, Morris Claiborne has been getting some mixed reviews for his performance. But what you don't read about are the number of times the quarterback looked elsewhere because Claiborne was covering his man well. Or about how Claiborne took his receiver out at the line by jamming him. Or the complete absence of any safety help on long balls. Context. Is. Everything.
About an hour before practice began, the Cowboys worked out the three free agent linemen they had brought in today. Under the watchful eyes of uncounted scouts, Bill Callahan, Wes Phillips and Jason Garrett, the three guys worked out. Montrae Holland easily looked to be in the best shape of the three and looked nothing like the "Lumpy" he is often referred to in the BTB comments section.
During practice, all three were present the whole time, but standing on the sidelines dressed in civilian clothes.
We'll see how the situation there ultimately shakes out, but just from watching Holland move, watching his strength and physique, I'm pretty sure that not signing him was the wrong move. Let's hope this doesn't end up bing a repeat of the Brian Waters situation from last year: Last season, the Cowboys chose to not pursue Brian Waters, although he had expressed interest in playing for Dallas. Waters went on to have a Pro Bowl season for the Patriots.
Looks like we had the first fight of camp between Clifton Geathers and Phil Costa. Geathers has been having himself a pretty good camp so far, and the 6-7, 325-pound Geathers has been pushing guys around a lot in camp – in a good way. This time though, the 6-3, 313-pound Costa pancaked him, and Geathers didn’t react too kindly to that.
Dwayne Harris is getting snaps with the first team when the offense has three receivers on the field. For my money, right now he’s leading the wide receiver depth crusade. Having said that, we don’t yet know where Holmes and Coale will fit in that picture, and it remains to be seen whether leading this WR group is enough to secure the No. 3 spot.
Raymond Radway is looking better and better too. He looked very rusty the first two days of camp but has come on strong as of late, and it feels like he’s regained some of that speed that that almost had him making the team last year.
I spent some time today watching Adrian Hamilton both in scrimmages and in pass rushing drills, and I came away intrigued. The guy is very fast, dynamic and has very good change of direction. He also has more than one pass rush move, so he’s not just some small-school, one-trick pony. It’ll be very interesting to watch Hamilton in pre-season games. Based on what he showed in the last two padded practices, I don’t see that the Cowboys will be able to hide him on the practice squad.
Orie Lemon had another good day in practice. Importantly, Lemon is making a lot of plays against the pass, and that may just be his ticket to a roster spot. At the moment, he’s locked in a battle with Alex Albright, whose main asset is his versatility. Today, Albright was once again lined up at ILB and at SOLB at different times.
Tyrone Crawford was taken into the trainer’s room with what has subsequently been reported to be some kind of calf injury. That’s too bad, because over the last two days, Crawford has shown that he may have what it takes to the be that "Pressure Five Technique" the Cowboys have been looking for for so long. He’s fast, dynamic, powerful and quick off the snap. Of course, that is against the second team.
Remember how the biggest knock on TE James Hanna was that he had incredible measurables but dropped a lot of balls? Turns out he hasn't dropped a single ball yet in camp (that I've seen) and still has incredible measurables.
Brodney Pool, Andre Holmes and Felix Jones joined the team in practice today. Here's a brief summary of what I saw from them and some of the other injured players
- Pool got reps with the second team, but I wasn’t able too see too much of him.
- Holmes had a slow start, but got a lot better later on. He had a few very nice catches in which he went up and got the ball. Perhaps even the QBs had to adjust to how high they can throw to him. Holmes did lose one battle against Brandon Carr: On a long pass down the right sideline, both players went up to the ball and Carr (6’-0") knocked the ball away from Holmes (6’-4"). This is of course less an indictment of Holmes that it is a sign of what Carr can do.
- I didn’t see Felix Jones, but that's probably because the team spent the entire day practicing on the far field.
- I had the chance to watch Danny Coale doing some receiving drills on the near field while the team was practicing on the far field. He looked to be running very smoothly and cut well. I don’t think he was cutting at full speed yet, but he looked pretty close. Needless to say, he caught every ball and was always wide open.
- Matt Johnson was fully dressed out, including his helmet, but wasn’t wearing his shoulder pads. He did a lot of rehab work, but wasn’t taking part in the scrimmages yet.
- Reports are also that Mackenzy Bernadeau passed whatever conditioning test he had to do. What I noticed was that he was not wearing the kneebrace anymore that he had been wearing on Wednesday, so apparently there’s improvement there as well.
Random observation of the day: Kickers, punters and longsnappers are a lonely breed. They often don’t even warm up with the ‘real’ football players, and most of the time they spend camp off in a corner somewhere by themselves. Today, rookie Charley Hughlett was practicing long snaps to Delbert Alvarado, and the man he’ll have to replace if he wants onto the roster, L.P. Ladouceur, was coaching him on the finer points of longsnapping. No coach anywhere in sight.
Wow moment of the day: Late in the day, Tyron Smith pancaked DeMarcus Ware as Ware was trying a spin move on him.
The day drew to a close with 2-minute drills when suddenly Rob Ryan and the whole defensive coaching crew started jumping up and down excitedly. What had happened? A deflected Romo pass is intercepted by Victor Butler for a defensive stop in the two-minute drill.