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Cowboys 2015 Training Camp Practice Summary: Capping Off A Physical Weekend

Observations from the Cowboys’ thirteenth training camp practice, a physical affair that revisited work on the run game (with a new wrinkle) as well as red zone and goal line material.

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

In the situational period at the end of Saturday's practice, Jason Garrett gave the offense less than two minutes to score while trailing by three points. Today, in the same period, they were given considerably less time remaining on the clock and trailed by seven - a situation wherein a field go simply would not do. This "ramping up" served to define Sunday's practice, which saw a continuation of Saturday's work, but with more intensity, physicality, pressure and purpose.

The day's agenda drew heavily from the running, red zone and goal line chapters of the playbook, with the added pressure of time (or, more properly, a clock with precious few ticks remaining). In another welcome extension of Saturday's practice, the defense once again played with tremendous physicality. Part of this was due to an unwelcome continuation: Tyron Smith and Doug Free once again sat out, and it negatively impacted all three offensive units' ability to execute. That said, the defense was notably physical, especially in the running period during the second full team 11-on-11 session. Ken Bishop kicked things off by hitting Ben Malena a bit more forcefully than might be considered ideal on a toss left, and it picked up from there.

This physicality built over the course of the practice, to the point where my podcast partner in crime, Landon McCool, and I agreed that a fight would soon be brewing. And sure enough, during the final team period, a couple of defenders, foremost among them Jeff Heath, took issue with the way Tyler Clutts (why does every camp fight involve Clutts?) finished a play, and the entire team was soon involved in a roiling, moving weasel pile - including Lance Dunbar, who, rather stupidly, opted to defend fellow RB Clutts while not wearing a helmet. At one point, Travis Frederick was knocked to the ground and wisely chose to stay there as several tons of sweaty humanity pushed each other all around him.

At least Clutts was no longer running with the second team during the run period. Now that the new RB additions have acclimated, Joe Randle was the first team runner, and Ben Malena and Michael Hill were running with the second and third teams, respectively. During this second full team period, we were treated to a heavy dose of the standard running repertoire. Earlier in practice, however, we were treated to a new wrinkle. In the screen period, the offense ran through a play where they lined up with two RBs in the backfield and faked a jet sweep to one direction, then turned to throw a screen pass in the other. Later, in position group work, when the backs and QBs got together to work on steps and timing for handoffs, we saw a coach acting as the jet sweeper. Now that they have introduced this package, expect to see it in coming practices ...

This afternoon also featured a lot material from the passing sections of the playbook's red zone and goal line chapters. In 7-on-7, the offense lined up along the 20, and then deployed at about the 5 yard line. The star of this period was Gavin Escobar; it was pretty clear that this was meant to be the case - indeed, my impression was that today's work was a collection of plays designed specifically to take advantage of the mismatches he provides, especially close in. We saw him dominate which ever defender was across from him, bodying up even the team's taller corners, none of whom can cover his impressive catch radius, especially on corner routes and back shoulder fades.

The other offensive player to step forward and announce his presence today was Devin Street who, as many pundits remarked, has picked up this weekend where he left off in San Diego. He joined Escobar in making several terrific catches in the end zone, including one touchdown on a short post that has Tony Romo shaking his fist in excitement. His biggest play of the day came on a play-action pass that we first saw on Saturday: Street motioned close to the tight end (much like Dwayne Harris used to do last year on running plays) on the right, thus signalling "run," whereupon he ran a deep crosser to the left, finding space behind a group of linebackers who had taken a step forward on the play fake. Both times we saw the play this weekend, it went for a big gainer. If Street is going to replace Harris as the "flex" blocker, he's going to enjoy this play, since he's a much bigger and more effective target on a crossing route than Harris was.

When the team aligned for 7-on-7 and full team work, Byron Jones was deployed strictly against the tight end (it was Jones who was victimized by a couple of Escobar's early TD grabs despite excellent coverage), suggesting that his primary function in this his rookie year will be to cover tight ends - a reasonable move considering the gallery of strong TEs Dallas is slated to face this season. In fact, he was in coverage against Jason Witten on the play during which he was injured; Number 82 was aligned in the left slot, and Jones followed him into the middle, whereupon he collided with Mo Claiborne, who was trailing a wideout across the field form the left side. Jones injured his right shoulder; now all await the test results with baited breath. All camp injuries are bad, but the worst are those that derail a young player's momentum. As we saw with DeMarcus Lawrence a year ago, it can take until December for an injured rookie to get back on the tracks. Let's hope Jones can get back much sooner than Lawrence was able ...

As noted above, this was a physical practice, which is fitting given that the next two days will see the Cowboys lock horns with the St. Louis Rams. Such annual scrimmages serve as an important litmus test. Consider the case of Zack Martin and Tyrone Crawford. In daily pod drills, Martin has generally gotten the best of Crawford. As observers, we are left to wonder: is this because Of Martin's excellence or Crawford's inadequacy (I'm inclined to the former opinion)? That's why seeing our Beloved 'Boys go up against another team can be so instructive; it helps to clarify many of these questions. Last year's fight-riddled practices versus the Raiders went a ways to addressing questions about the 2014 Cowboys; I expect the next two days will offer a similar set of early answers.

Can't hardly wait!!

Stay tuned, loyal readers; I'll have a fuller, more detailed report on the day's action later tonight/ early tomorrow morning (depending on your time zone)...

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