Rabblerousr shares his detailed observations and analysis from the Cowboys' eleventh training camp practice, which saw the team prepare for Thursday's preseason game in San Diego. One highlight:
Next for the receivers and tight ends were a series of pass patterns, in which the receivers and tight ends gathered with the QBs for a session against air. Before each snap, one of the offensive coaches would tell them the coverage - "Cover-2, X is up" - and the offensive guys were supposed to adjust their routes and throws to the coverage. One evident fact was that Dez Bryant takes every rep like its the fourth quarter of a Super Bowl. While others might jog through a rep when they knew they weren't an option (I'm talking to you, J.C. Copeland!), Bryant ran every route as hard as imaginable, even when no defender was present. The man sets a tone...
The Cowboys were practicing more like they will during the regular season as they get ready for the first preseason game. In his early look at things, Rabblerousr singles out the player that stood out for him.
The player of the day, to my mind, was rookie WR Devin Street, who has put together several very strong practices in a row now. After notching three TDs in the Blue-White scrimmage, he made some terrific grabs yesterday. Today, he had a spectacular TD catch along the left sideline, leaping up to snag a contested ball over B.W. Webb. Later, running a simple out, with Scandrick draped all over him, Street kept his body between the ball and defender, and reached out to secure a difficult, and impressive, hands catch.
The main concern for the Cowboys right now is having enough bodies on the field to get through the first preseason game, particularly defensive backs.
The Cowboys were down to three healthy cornerbacks to finish practice Tuesday after Tyler Patmon left with a hip flexor injury. He came back onto the practice field later but didn't participate. The three healthy cornerbacks - Orlando Scandrick, B.W. Webb and Terrance Mitchell - kind of meandered around at one point with other units going through drills. S Ryan Smith was forced to play some cornerback in practice. At one point, secondary coach Jerome Henderson put on a red pull-over and filled in as a safety.
The Cowboys are signing defensive backs Johnny Thomas and Korey Lindsey to roster. Injured cb Dashaun Phillips will be released plus 1 more— Clarence Hill (@clarencehilljr) August 6, 2014
Again, the main points are getting ready to play the San Diego Chargers and having enough healthy bodies to do so.
A big focus of the practice was on San Diego, with the Cowboys' offense running eight plays against the scout-team defense. The defense saw 12 plays from the scout-team offense. Running back Ben Malena took a pretty good shot from linebacker Justin Durant. Adewale Ojomo had would-be sack of Dustin Vaughan, but coordinator Rod Marinelli warned him to stay off the quarterback so a throw could be made.
After Rolando McClain sat out a second day of practices, there was a swirl of rumors about him deciding to chuck all again and walk out. However, he showed up for the walk-through on Tuesday. Owner/GM Jerry Jones speculates that there are simply issues arising from McClain being out of the game.
"Rolando not having played for a year, plus having not going through the offseason program, I was really surprised that we put him in basically competitive situations as early as we did," Jones said after Monday's practice. "That was OK. He wanted to. Our coaches felt he should. But at the same time we've got to remember that he's got to do some good running and the kind of things that are happening to him ... that's just classic response by your muscles for not having played for a year or not having worked out in the spring. Not just ‘football ready' but just a guy that hasn't been out here running as much as the rest of the guys have."
Rolando McClain is not the only player in camp who is trying to get back into football shape after missing time, although LaRon Byrd did have the offseason practices to help. With the top five receivers close to locked up, he is one of a group of wide receivers involved in a real fight to try and make one possible opening on the team.
Through the early part of training camp Byrd has inserted himself into the conversation with his play. He is big (6-4, 225 pounds). He can make contested catches, like his touchdown in red zone drills between defensive backs while going to the ground. He can go up and get the ball.
He makes clear he is not just talking about players he has known. He includes everyone connected with the league.
"He's a marvel," Jones said. "It's funny he was a subject for us visiting today and just we were watching him down there in some specific drills and he just executed every drill as though he were executing against the New York Giants. Just to perfection to his ability to do it."
Forget the fight with Dez Bryant. This is about a player setting the tone for the defense on every play.
His physical style and playmaking ability cause the Cowboys to consider Wilcox a potential foundation piece.
"It's not just this defense, it's any defense that you want to build around players like that, that cut it loose," secondary coach Jerome Henderson said. "That's one thing J.J. does. He's not afraid to go stick his face in, he's not afraid to go make a play, he's not afraid to be aggressive and we like that."
Rod Marinelli is considered a sensei for the defensive line (some refer to him as Dallas' "Master Splinter"), but Leon Lett is both learning how to coach and teaching the next generation. In his case, having lived his dream as a player, he is now living another dream as a coach.
He spent a year as a volunteer coach at UNLV before joining Louisiana Monroe's staff in 2010. In 2011, he joined the Cowboys' staff as a volunteer assistant before getting hired full time.
"He just made guys better," Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said. "You could see it, and he really connects with the players."
It has become a bit of a running bit, waiting to see what bizarre drill Mike Pope is going to subject the tight ends to each day. At first glance, some of the things he does seem ludicrous, but there is most assuredly a method behind the madness. He is trying to simulate the environment tight ends face, where they are always in traffic and their concentration is the most important thing they bring to the game.
To simulate the chaos they face on game day, Pope tries to distract his players in practice. He obscures their vision with goggles and bags - the latter accessory providing the inspiration behind the name, "Halloween Drill." But Pope doesn't stop there. He douses them with frigid water to make them uncomfortable. He throws passes at them that come from all angles, high and low.
"We're always in traffic," Pope said. "Always in traffic. Doesn't matter whether we're down the field somewhere or we're in there underneath linebacker level, there is someone always knocking us around. ... Beat the coverage, catch the ball. Don't be distracted by what happens to you. They have to play through that mentally."
It seems like everybody else is getting hyped to take over the Mike linebacker position, but Justin Durant just keeps on keepin' on. He knew there would be people coming after his job, and he welcomes the challenge.
Durant knew the competition was coming.
"I thought it was going to be earlier, like as soon as Sean went down," said Durant, who missed six games last year with hamstring and groin issues. "The more competition that we have, the better it's going to bring out of each person."
Last season, the Cowboys' play-calling arrangements were one of the top stories of the preseason. This year, not so much.
Linehan, who called plays from the sideline while in Detroit the last five seasons, will be on the sideline calling plays for the Cowboys this year.
"I think it's personal preference," Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said. "You see the game better from upstairs. You might feel the game better being on the sidelines, the communication you have with the players is important. The direct contact you have with the players is important."
There are many who feel that Josh Brent should not be given a chance to play football again after completing his sentence for intoxication manslaughter, but all indications are that he will get that chance with the Cowboys. Every statement from staff and players has been pointing that direction.
The Cowboys have supported Brent since the action and coach Jason Garrett said that would continue.
"Job one for you is simply to get your life back together and get yourself acclimated," Garrett said. "I know football is a big part of his life, his football family is a big part of his life and we will be there to help him and support him.