One thing we try to do here is bring our readers as much Dallas Cowboys news and information as possible. There is a lot of coverage of the team, and I know that sometimes there is just not enough time for you to get to all of it. One of my favorite regular discussions of the team is the Talking Cowboys segment done by the mothership. Fernie67 made a comment that it had some good information. After listening in, I agree, and wanted to pass on some of the more interesting parts for those who missed it.
This was the webcast from May 22nd, after the first day of OTAs. The participants, for those who aren't familiar with the program, are host Mickey Spagnola, Bryan Broaddus and Rowan Kavner, who all write for the mothership, and Sydney Durso, a Dallas Cowboys Cheerleader, who is there to help with social media, be someone more pleasant to look at than any of the guys, and generally get fawned over, especially by Broaddus.
One of the things that we all are interested in is how the team looks, even though it is very early and the data available is very limited. Broaddus, who is generally the most objective and knowledgeable participant, said that the team looks better than the 8-8 rut it has been on. His main reason for this was all the players who were back after missing time last year, including some like Matt Johnson and Danny Coale that never saw the field in 2012, plus the new additions for this year. Broaddus usually doesn't blow a lot of smoke, and it is encouraging for him to have that take.
Tony Romo, as might be expected, came up. They talked about the cyst, but that has been well discussed elsewhere at BTB. The more interesting things were about how he finally loosened up a little from his usual approach of not really saying anything (like his head coach) and actually talked about how the team and he are better than the 8-8 records of the past couple of seasons. Spagnola thought this was a sign of both his desire to take a leadership role in fixing things (contrary to how some other Dallas area media see it) and the overall team attitude. Later in the episode, Broaddus offered the idea that Jerry Jones' comments about Romo's increased role and putting him in more of a Peyton Manning role were just unfortunate. He stressed that Romo was basically at the facility all the time, as much as he is allowed under the CBA, and has always been deeply involved in the game planning and trying to make sure the plays for each game were the right ones. Basically, the only real difference between Romo this year and last is that he now has one more year's experience. Pretty much everything else is going to be the same, at least as far as game preparation and planning goes.
One of the things that many of you may have noticed were the players who, like the now cyst-free Romo, were at the OTA but not fully participating. For him and the other veterans, such as DeMarco Murray, Sean Lissemore, DeMarcus Ware, Jay Ratliff, and Mackenzy Bernadeau, this was just a case of excessive caution. If this had been the week before a regular season game, all would have been full participants. But since this is just OTAs, the team is taking every precaution to make sure there are as many healthy bodies for the start of training camp as possible. With known quantities like the players listed, they don't have anything they really need to find out. For Justin Durant, the free agent expected to be contending for the starting SAM linebacker job, rookie RB Joseph Randle, and UDFA safety Jakar Hamilton, the same level of caution applies, with the expectation they will have plenty of time for evaluation later. Lawrence Vickers is still recovering from surgery, and the expected move to increased use of the 12 and possibly 13 formation is making his status with the team a little iffy anyway.
The only player whose non-participation raised some concern was Anthony Hargrove. The DE was out of football last year, and was not ready to go. This was worrisome more because it showed a lack of preparation on his part than anything else.
The absence of Durant opened up more snaps for Alex Albright, who, at least by the standards of the Talking Cowboys crew, is now the official Swiss Army Knife of the defense. He saw snaps at both SAM and MIKE, and is considered a backup at DE as well. The opinion of these guys is that he will make the team just because he provides depth at so many positions.
For me, the real meat of this show was the discussion of how three of the position groups were shaping up early on. Offensive line is the big concern once again. The feeling is that Tyron Smith and Travis Frederick are considered the likely starters, but with Bernadeau out, the other three positions are very much up for grabs, and no one at this point is making a bad showing. The remaining players were pretty liberally shuffled between the first, second and third units as the coaches are clearly trying to look at all possible combinations to find what shows the most promise. No one else has emerged, but almost all have had some good moments.
Defensive line is still a bit of a puzzle, just because there is a lot of uncertainty on who is playing where. DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer (who Broaddus stressed was the most impressive guy he saw in the first day) have the starting DE positions lined up. Indications are that Jason Hatcher is going to start at the 1 technique and Ratliff at the 3. Rob Callaway looked like the primary backup at the 1. Tyrone Crawford looked like he was getting most of his work as the strongside or left DE, backing up Spencer. Everything else was still fluid.
At safety, Barry Church was clearly being treated like the starting SS, with Matt Johnson and Will Allen contending for the starting FS. One wrinkle that came out was that when Church was not with the 1s, Johnson slid over to SS and Allen would take the FS spot. This falls in place with previous discussions that the safety roles are not as hard and fast in Monte Kiffin's defense, and also with reports that Johnson has looked quite good so far. It also raises some questions about the future of Danny McCray. He is considered a true stud on special teams, but with players like Hamilton and J.J. Wilcox also in the mix, there is a real question about whether the team can carry a player who essentially would replace another safety on the roster who was better able to play his designated position.
There were a few general notes about the practice. First, the pace was noticeably rapid, and seemed more so than last year, particularly on defense. (It was also noted that many NFL teams are focusing on this, which would seem a likely reaction to the CBA restrictions on practices. Cram as much in as you can, and push the conditioning at the same time.) Speaking of defense, the crew mentioned how soft-spoken Rod Marinelli is off the field, but then he turns into the Drill Sergeant of the defense, barking out orders and enforcing performance to expected standards.
One innovative thing that came out was special teams coach Rich Bisaccia running punt drills by throwing a tennis ball instead of having a football kicked or using a jug machine. When he was asked about it, he explained that he was able to put the tennis ball exactly where he wanted it to work on coverages and blocking assignments, plus he thinks fielding a tennis ball is harder than a football anyway. I don't know if it is valid, but it is an interesting technique.
Finally, the 12 formation is clearly part of the plan for this season. As to the question of whether James Hanna or Gavin Escobar is going to be the second tight end, the answer may be, they both are. Hanna would line up with the 1s, but Bill Callahan would call for the "Big 12" formation that has been mentioned in specific situations, putting Escober in when his height advantage was more valuable. At the same time, it did not appear that Escobar's pass catching ability is a concern, because he showed good hands, from what was seen.
I hope that gives you a little more information on what happened the first week of OTAs. Stay tuned here at BTB for further updates.