It's prudent to assess training camp as a series of small, discrete units, each of which builds to the day before an off day. Consider that the coaching staff doesn't want to be in the middle of teaching, say, goal line, and then have a scheduled day off for the players to forget everything they have been taught. Instead, it's better policy to allow each section of the playbook be taught, polished and built to a point, whereupon a new section can be taught after an off day has refreshed minds and bodies.
With that in mind, we should understand today's camp doings as an intense study session on material that the team already knows well. Recall that in a recent presser, Jason Garrett told reporters that his definition of "fight" - the word printed on team-issued t-shirts for this year's Oxnard sojourn - is akin to a student who studies for a test by doing well every day in the semester. If we can accept this, then we can see today's work as an embodiment of Garrett's mantra: repeating already traversed territory such that, when the exam comes they will be prepared (the midterm comes this weekend, with the Blue-White scrimmage).
The material from the football textbook that they have been studying of late is an inter-related set of units: the third down package, two-minute and red-zone offenses and the accompanying defensive sets and schemes. If we were to plot this material on a Venn diagram, there would be considerable overlap - thus the team can work on them somewhat concurrently, with the largest day-to-day change being context. As I reported Tuesday, the team began this three-day segment of camp by working on end-of-half scenarios; yesterday, they focused on red zone work. Today, they integrated both, revisiting a lot of the formations and concepts that we had seen in the past two practice sessions.
As had been the case in recent days, we saw a preponderance of traditional passing down personnel groupings: 01 (four wide), 11 (three wide) and s11 (three-wide, in shotgun). During the competitive and full-team periods, these formations were deployed in red zone and in end-of-half scenarios. As they had earlier in the week, the team practiced throwing into the end zone from just outside the 20-yard line, when the defense is less packed in. But they also worked on throws into the end zone from close to the goal line - mostly back-shoulder fades, with a few short crossing patters mixed in.
In addition, we saw a lot of the running plays we had seen earlier in the week. You may recall that, on Wednesday, the offensive line worked on pulling and the QB and RBs practiced timing and distance of pitchouts - exercises that promised future edge runs. We saw some of these yesterday, and a heavier dose today. The most impressive of these was a DeMarco Murray run off right tackle. Doug Free blocked down, and Travis Frederick and Zack Martin pulled outside of him, opening up a HUGE hole that Murray sauntered through untouched; he probably would not have been touched by a defender for a good 15-18 yards downfield.
Indeed, the Cowboys O-line dominated - and I mean DOMINATED - the full team run periods. Yesterday, the defense was better on outside runs after allowing too many runs to get to the edge on Tuesday. Today, unfortunately, they regressed to Tuesday's form, allowing several runners to get outside containment, or to dip interior runs to wide open spaces outside the tackles. On one play in particular, Lance Dunbar took a run off right tackle and, finding nothing, bounced it outside, finding a wide open field for a big gainer. To borrow a choice line from Mike Fisher: the Cowboys' OL "will steal your manhood." The defense had a lot of manhoods taken today.
In fact, story of camp's first week is that the offense is way ahead of the defense, which has really struggled to compete. As David Moore tweeted, Garrett, who was watching the WR vs. CB drills in the one-on-one competitive period, told the defensive guys they were "being bludgeoned" out there, a mismatch that was punctuated by Chris Boyd's spectacular one-handed TD grab with the very game Terrance Mitchell draped all over him. Given that this is the most evenly matched of the offensive vs. defense groups, it's becoming increasingly evident that the defense has a way to go to catch up, especially with the first team offense. At this point, the only truly even battles are Henry Melton vs. Zack Martin and perhaps Orlando Scandrick vs. Terrance Williams...
The offense even won the day's two "best-on-best" sessions. The first of these was Gavin Escobar vs. J.J Wilcox. Escobar, running an out route on the left sideline, was tightly covered by Wilcox, but made a great in-bounds hands catch before rolling to the ground. Later, the coaches gathered the team around Davon Coleman and Travis Frederick (a mark of high praise for Coleman's work thus far in camp; today, he blew by Mackenzie Bernadeau in team period for what would have been a sack of Romo). Coleman is game but, as I suggested yesterday, the well-spoken Frederick is a playground bully once the pads come on.
That's not to say the defense has no shining lights whatsoever. Seventh-rounder Terrance Mitchell capped his strong week by playing well, with great confidence and physicality. And, as we heard in draft profiles, he's not afraid to lay the wood. He has much to learn - in no small part because he missed the bulk of the team's offseason activities because he was still in school - but he's clearly a tough kid who isn't intimidated by the competition; on at least one occasion, he went heads-up on Dez Bryant and provided tight coverage, preventing a reception or forcing the quarterback to look elsewhere. On a down note, he's on the ground too much - and, in fact, was roundly chastized for it, after rolling up Dwayne Harris' ankle during one-on-one passing drills.
Speaking of Bryant, he might well have made the play of the day. And, no, it wasn't a one-handed TD grab but an athletic, hustle play to knock away a potential interception. Tony Romo's pass was batted at the line and rose up into the air in a high arc, looking to come down in Carter's arms. Seeing this, Dez cut off his route and charged in, deftly leaping forward to knock away the ball - much to the delight of the three cute young women who drove down from Las Vegas for the day, steadfastly holding aloft a "We [heart] Dez" sign for nigh on the full two hours of practice, and screaming whenever he was within 20 yards of their position on the fence.
The runner up for POTD - and it would have been the winner had it been successful - was an almost touchdown reception by rookie wideout Devin Street, who skied (I mean, really skied!) in the back of the end zone to nab an errant Brandon Weeden pass, coming down with one foot in bounds. Defensive backs coach Jerome Henderson helped him up and gave him a congratulatory pat for his effort; Weeden admitted that it was a terrific catch of a poor pass (although he used saltier language to describe his pass).
As often happens at about this time in camp, the injury list is starting to swell in earnest. Added to the rolls today were Mo Claiborne (knee) and Sterling Moore (tender groin), which, with Brandon Carr still out due to his mother's passing, made the starting CB trio Orlando Scandrick, Terrance Mitchell and B.W. Webb. Not a group to strike fear into the hearts of opposing receivers. And in addition, they were missing UDFA OG Brian Clarke (pity; just as he was starting to play better) and FB J.C. Copeland (who wasn't) and lost Ben Bass (yep, hamstring), Darrion Weems (elbow) and Dwayne Harris (ankle) during practice, in the aforementioned one-on-one WR-CB session.
With Bass, Ben Gardner, DeMarcus Lawrence, Anthony Spencer and Terrell McClain out, the defensive line is getting rather, shall we say, thin. As they did at about this juncture last year, the Cowboys might well need to contact a couple of available players and get some able bodies into the D-line meeting room. That call last year, you may recall, brought in Landon Cohen and George Selvie. If the Cowboys were able to hit at the same percentage were they to make a similar call this year, I think we'd all be ecstatic. Until then, we spend the off day praying to the football gods to cease this curse they have visited on Dallas big men in recent years.