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Cowboys 2015 Training Camp Practice Summary: Rams Nation Descends On Oxnard, Brings Gloom

Observations from the Cowboys’ fourteenth training camp practice, the first of two scrimmages against the St. Louis Rams.

Mr. Mince had a four-sack afternoon on Monday
Mr. Mince had a four-sack afternoon on Monday
Mike McGinnis/Getty Images

The day's biggest surprise was provided by Rams Nation, which I had assumed was perhaps a couple hundred strong. Yet, well over an hour before practice started, the stands on the far field were filled with blue-and-yellow clad fans.

I'm not sure there were more people in total at Monday's practice than there were at the Blue-White Scrimmage, but it was certainly very comparable. The size of the crowd certainly lent a great deal of noise, hype and general energy to the proceedings. Chants and catcalls filled the air, particularly when the two teams went-head to head in the competitive and full team periods.

Fittingly for such a moribund franchise, the Rams fans seemed to have brought an overcast day with them (they are the NFL's version of Schleprock, it appears). It was the only cloudy day of camp thus far. Ultimately, this was probably a god thing, considering that it was also one of Oxnard 2015's most intense practices; indeed, today's work environment enjoyed an intensity that we haven't seen in the two plus weeks in Oxnard, including some jawing back and forth between the Rams players and personnel and the Cowboys fans assembled on the near field.

Although the atmosphere may have been unique, the daily schedule followed a familiar and well-trod path, with the sequence of position group exercises, competitive periods, special teams sessions and full team 11-on-11 work that we have come to expect. The key difference between today and other practices was that, during competitive and full team periods, Dallas players went toe-to-toe with Rams instead of Cowboys. This began after the Cowboys had engaged in all the usual pre-warm-up activities: special teams period (with a focus on kickoff return and coverage); 11-on-11 walk-through; pat-n-go; ball period; screen period; lower-body warm-up.

The Cowboys offense worked against the Rams defense on the near field and the defense squared off against the rival offense on the far field. At practices, I usually run back and forth between the two fields to make sure I can get a close-up view of a specific position group's technique work and then get into proper position to photograph the full team period. Today, due to a combination of the format and the oversized crowds, I opted to remain on the near field, where Tony Romo and Company ran plays against the Rams defense. Tomorrow, I'll set up shop n the other side, and let you know how the Cowboys defense fares against Nick Foles and the St. Louis offense (although I have a little info in that regard to share below).

One thing that was readily apparent was that the Cowboys coach on the run while the Rams coach between drills. The result is that the Cowboys get a lot more work done in the same period of time than the Rams do. This was most evident in the special teams period, where we have grown accustomed to seeing Rich Bisaccia give his charges numerous reps when they work on a given element of the return game. As they reassemble for each rep, he shouts out notes, but there is never any standing around while he talks (there is standing around when he breaks the unit down into discrete elements and works one of the elements, but that group gets the notes-after-the-rep treatment). When the Rams special teams worked today, their coach would gather them together around a card, give them individual instructions, and then both teams would run the drill. The Cowboys players ended up doing a lot of waiting for the Rams players to get their teaching in.

Once again, Tyron Smith didn't participate in anything more strenuous than walk-through pace, and Doug Free continued to be limited as well. As a consequence, the much-ballyhooed confrontation between the Cowboys' premium O-line and the Rams' sterling D-line was, well, anticlimactic:

Moreover, when the the practice schedule rolled around to the physical periods (competitive, full team), both starting tackles were on the sidelines, and Tony Romo was "protected" by Darrion Weems and R.J. Dill. So, it shouldn't be a cause for concern that the Cowboys struggled in first team period when the focus was on the running game. They managed a few solid runs, but the big lanes to which we have become accustomed were nowhere in evidence. Nor will they be, I'd guess, until the Cowboys' best player returns to the fold.

During the first competitive period, the Rams linebackers faced off against the Cowboys running backs and tight ends. I can say definitively that St. Louis doesn't have a single linebacker who can cover any of the Cowboys RBs or TEs. Indeed, they had to resort to clutching and grabbing just to stay in the vicinity, and even then were ineffective. In particular, Jason Witten and Gavin Escobar made catch after catch, including several intermediate-to-deep throws. The capper? Dustin Vaughan was the quarterback.

From the "we've heard this before" department: once again, Cole Beasley couldn't be covered, whether in one-on-one, 7-on-7 or in 11-on-11 situations. No matter who they put on him, be the defender big or small, fast or physical, Beasley made him look silly. One example from many:

Another receiver note: Terrance Williams dusted Janoris Jenkins on a couple of early reps, including a deep crosser that would have been a touchdown. In Dez Bryant's absence, both during OTAs and in the last week or so of camp, Number 83 has really stepped forward. Whenever the receivers go through position group drills or competitive periods, he always takes the first rep, often against the best defender. Bryant-Williams has oft been compared to Irvin-Harper, but Williams is far better than Harper, who was a mouse in a greyhound's body. T-Will is a badger in an antelope's body, and is more driven, competitive and physical than Harper ever was.

On the afternoon, the Rams were the chippier of the two squads. On one play in particular, Joseph Randle turned to take a short pass upfield only to be hit high by the Rams' Trumaine Johnson, which sent Randle into a somersault and almost resulted in fisticuffs when Devin Street approached Johnson to let him know just how little he appreciated his treatment of Randle. That the incident didn't end up in a brawl was a testament to the Cowboys' seeming desire to remain disciplined and not let the scrimmage devolve into a series of bench-clearing brawls. Just as it settled down, Dez Bryant came over from the sidelines to the middle of the field to jaw at Johnson, a confrontation that ended with mutual helmet pats...

Nonetheless, the Rams willingness to engage in some outside-the-envelope pushing and shoving evidently angered both Dez Bryant and Terrance Williams, both of whom could be seen complaining to their fellow wideouts during the final team stretch (Bryant had come over from the sideline where he was working on the bands to get in Johnson's face, and finished by patting him on the helmet). If any of you have a particularly good memory, you may recall that this was the case the first day against the Raiders last year. On day two, the Cowboys clearly came out resolved not to take any guff, and were every bit as physical and willing to scrap as were the Raiders. Given Bryant and T-Will's post-practice attitudes, I'd expect a similar narrative to develop tomorrow afternoon.

Speaking of Bryant, he aligned at the "X" receiver for every snap in the first full team 11-on-11 walk-through. The man loves to play, and he's going to take every rep that he's allowed. Not being able to participate in any of the competitive or full team work his afternoon must have KILLED him. He did what he could, rallying his offensive mates from the sidelines (in a series of invective-filled exhortations), but we know what he really wanted to do was to shut Trumaine Johnson up by making him look silly on a crossing pattern.

Speaking of killed, a bit of news form the other side of the field, where the Cowboys' defensive line dominated the one-on-one pod drills. The Rams use an actual quarterback in these drills, who aligns in the shotgun. Perhaps because this gave the D-line an attack point, they ate the Rams for lunch. Jeremy Mincey collected four sacks, two each from defensive tackle and defensive end, and he was joined in the sack parade by DeMarcus Lawrence, who had to QB bags, Davon Coleman, who had three, and Randy Gregory and Greg Hardy, who had two apiece. For Hardy, this came in two reps. Check it:

Another bit of news form the other field was that Corey White continued his stellar camp, playing tight coverage and adding a pretty pick of a Nick Foles pass (even though Foles is now with the Rams, that still feels good to write!), which prompted my good man Jordan Ross to Tweet:

I couldn't agree more. When all is said and done, I believe we are going to look back at the 2015 season and wonder how the front office managed to score White and linebacker Andrew Gachkar at such a discount. Perhaps we should start a "Will McClay for executive of the year" campaign?

Stay tuned, loyal readers; I'll have a video diary of the practice up tomorrow morning. I hope it gives you some idea of what it was like from my point of view...


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