The first phase of Dallas Cowboys 2014 Training Camp is over, so it's time for some first impressions. While it's still too early to pen in any names on the depth chart and there have been many times training camp standouts failed to deliver during preseason and regular season games, I have been pleasantly surprised by many rookie additions to the team. Sure, much of our training camp insights come from tweets and articles, especially by some great work by BTB's own Rabblerousr, but Training Camp Live at the mothership also provides us with some glimpses of drills so we can see performances with our own eyes. Compiling some of this information, and referring to the TC Live clip of the wide receiver versus corner back drill, I have come away with one observation with which I am very happy.
While Brandon Carr has been away from camp due to the poor health of his mother, Orlando Scandrick and Morris Claiborne have been getting all the media coverage on the cornerback depth-chart. And they have not disappointed in their battle for the remaining starting CB spot. Both have gotten stronger over the offseason and are clearly displaying more physical play. Mo is also competing with swagger and confidence that you might not expect from a third-year player coming off of a disappointing sophomore slump. If Carr can also improve upon his '13 performance once he comes back to camp, the Cowboys might have a pretty solid three-man corner group to help improve their defense this season. After them on the depth chart, there seems to be more of a battle for the fourth and fifth spots than I expected. Incumbents B.W. Webb and Sterling Moore might have had a leg up to make the 53-man roster, but in my opinion, both have been outplayed by a seventh-round rookie.
Terrance Mitchell wasn't picked until the final round of the draft, but the Dallas brass were surprised to still find him available because they considered him a fourth or fifth-round talent. Will McClay, Cowboys assistant director of player personnel, was further surprised by how the rookie performed better at minicamp than expected.
Yes I would say Terrance Mitchell, who we had decent grades on - the fourth, fifth round - and were surprised to see him there. And he missed the OTA because of the school session. When he came out, when he shows up at minicamp, he just makes plays. He's one of those guys that you see it on. A type likened to Jairus Byrd - the people that come from Oregon that have a feel for the game. And you saw that natural ability. He may not be a 4.3 corner, but he's 4.5 with great instincts that make him a 4.4-type player.
McClay wasn't the only one to take notice of the rookie after his late arrival to mini-camp back in June. Brian Broaddus had this to say:
To Mitchell's credit, he hit the field running and was ready to go. His work against the receivers on their release drills was solid in the way he was able to position himself off the line. Mitchell was able to carry the start of his day into the 7-on-7 period, where he lined up at right corner. No matter what player was across from him, he showed nice quickness along with the ability to adjust as the route was going up the field. He played with a great deal of comfort both mentally and physically. He appeared to have a good feel for these routes that he was seeing.
Devin Streettried to take him up the field on a fade, but Mitchell was able to jam him on the line which threw off the timing of the route. Jerome Henderson put him to the test on Tuesday and Mitchell came out no worse for wear.
A couple of days later in his Scout's Notebook:
It's been a nice couple of practices for Terrance Mitchell missing the majority of practices due to his university being on the quarter system. Mitchell has normally been lining up on the right side at corner, but on Wednesday, he took some snaps on the left side in the nickel.
In the 7-on-7 period,
Jamar Newsometried to run a crossing route on him out of man coverage and Mitchell played it perfectly. He was able to avoid the pick of Tim Benford, who started his route right at him. Mitchell never lost sight of where Newsome was going and once they both arrived in the middle of the field, Mitchell was in ideal position to knock the ball away. It was the type of play that a rookie corner normally does not make because he gets distracted by the receiver trying to rub him out.
In what little I have seen, I have also been surprised by his physicality and confidence. When you watch some of the drills at Cowboys camp, you will notice that the team first starts having players of similar experience competing against each other. Starters go up against other starters, rookies versus other new additions, and so on. While this is an appropriate coaching method to make sure that players go up against others of similar talent and playbook knowledge, and don't lose confidence getting beat up by established veterans, watching Mitchell versus another impressive rookie (Devin Street) is like watching some established players go head-to-head.
In the first play of the TC Live video, Mitchell is covering rookie Devin Street in the one-on-one drill. These drills dramatically favor the wide receivers, as there is no pressure on the quarterbacks, the receivers know where they are going, and the defenders are not getting any help in their man coverage duties. But a lot can been discerned about the cornerbacks even when the receivers manage to catch the ball. In this rep, you can see how physical Mitchell plays the position. While he would likely have gotten a flag on the play for a quick grab of Devin Street, who has difficulty but manages to fight away from Mitchell at the line, the corner does a great job of closing the gap as the ball is in the air and timing it perfectly to contest the catch and deflect the pass.
At the 2:53 mark, TMitch is battling with rookie Jamar Newsome on a deep route. It seems he was beat at the line, but he quickly closes the gap and is in Newsome's hip pocket down the sidelines. He remains physical with the slightly taller and faster receiver as he carries him downfield and manages to find the ball in the air and contest the catch for an incomplete pass.
At the 4:10 mark, he is up against the speedy undrafted rookie L'Damian Washington. He does a great job using his size and strength to bully Washington even though Washington actually gets past him off the snap. But at the five-yard mark, Mitchell is right at his hip and nearly throws the receiver to the ground with his physical play. Also, he never allows separation as the shifty receiver comes back to the ball and makes a tough catch. While this was a completion, it isn't often that a corner can manage to not get lost after committing so much to physical press coverage against a fast receiver on a come-back route. Mitchell does a good job keeping his balance and not allowing any separation. If it wasn't a perfect pass low and away from the coverage, he would have been able to contest the catch. Instead, he forces the receiver to make a tough diving reception.
At the 8:12 mark, he is once again going against Street. He has inside leverage and Street runs a very smooth and quick dig (or in) route. Most rookie corners would have been left in the dust in that position against such a well run route, but Mitchell does a great job spinning his hips and staying right on Street to make an instant "tackle" after the catch. If you compare these four reps with all the other cornerbacks, Mitchell looks a lot more like the starters than all the other guys.
There is still a lot of time before the start of the regular season and I assume Terrance Mitchell will only continue to get better, but it isn't very often that a seventh-round rookie who misses most of mini-camp is so quick to get comfortable in the NFL. Like many others on the defense, Mitchell has said he has a chip on his shoulder (because he was picked so late in the draft) and while he hasn't started any fights to prove it, he has silently shown his confidence and ability already at camp. He could end up providing far more to this team than anyone should expect from a seventh-round pick. I wouldn't be surprised if by the end of camp we start seeing him get a lot of reps in the slot as the team prepares him for snaps in dime defenses as he continues to prove himself worthy...and a seventh-round gem.