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Cowboys 2015 Training Camp Practice Summary: Cowboys Go To A Fight, And A Practice Breaks Out

Observations from the Cowboys fifteenth practice of training camp, and the second consecutive heated, intense scrimmage against the Rams. In fact, it was so heated that the final full team 11-on-11 period devolved into a protracted fight and the last 15 minutes of practice had to be cancelled.

DMAC was perhaps the lone bright spot on Tuesday
DMAC was perhaps the lone bright spot on Tuesday
Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

As I spent yesterday watching the Cowboys offense against the Rams defense, and had promised the BTB faithful that I would spend today checking out the defense, I joined the scattering of Cowboys-lovin' brethren in what amounted to a miniature version of the "Blue Hole" - the sideline along the far field. Once again, there were more Rams fans than Cowboys fans in attendance, and by a good margin. This was particularly the case on the far field, where the grandstands were well populated and the section alongside the field was four deep in Rams faithful, with only a couple of Cowboys fans among them. Indeed, by my unscientific study, the ratio on the far field was somewhere in the vicinity of 50 to one.

Rams linebacker Alec Ogletree has a camera strapped to his helmet for today's practice. At one point, he was near the sideline, and the fans were shouting out to him, so he held his helmet (which he wasn't wearing) at about chest height, and panned across the crowd, which of course resulted in general pandemonium. Soon after, St. Louis head coach Jeff Fisher made an appearance and the fans broke out into a chant of "Fisher, Fisher, Fisher..." My thought: these fans love their Rams.

I spoke to a lot of Rams fans on the sidelines and to a man they were Angelinos who were fans back when the Rams were in Los Angeles twenty years ago. For the most part they were excellent, loyal fans, with very few thugs or knuckleheads, and I really felt for them - it was as if they still held a flame for a beautiful woman who had jilted them many years ago, and were still hoping against hope that she'd return to their loving embrace. Of course, this kind of hope breeds a sort of desperation, and their shrill cries from the sideline contributed to the festive and, ultimately, combative atmosphere. More on that later...

As I noted yesterday, the Rams spend a lot more of practice standing around and waiting. This was evident yesterday, but much more so today, especially during the special teams periods, when entire position groups could be seen taking a knee. Cowboys players take a knee only during water breaks, and occasionally when their unit comes to the sidelines during their participation in the 11-on-11 sessions. The Rams inefficiency was especially clear during the two special teams periods; not only does Rich Bisaccia coach much faster than Rams special teams coach John Fassel, but the Cowboys have other position groups doing work (receivers practice breaking down and tackling, for example) while the 'teams guys are doing their thing. If you think about camp as an opportunity for players - especially young players - to get as many good reps as possible, time saving measures such as this mean that Dallas' young players will get as many as 100 more reps than the Rams' youngsters, if not more. That's a lot of extra information, and extra preparation.

After the special teams period, I watched the Rams break into various units for position group work. After accumulating a bevy of high draft picks in the last four years, the Rams front office has built a young, talented roster - a fact that was evident as I watched them go through their drills. That said, they have been built almost inversely to the way the Cowboys have; of all their positions, it's the offensive line that is probably the weakest group - an assessment reinforced by the whipping the Cowboys D-line administered in pass rush drills yesterday. This begs the question: can the Rams win with an average-to-slightly below-average O-line?

The position group work being done, the teams faced off for the first time on the day, in a three-group competitive period: OL vs. DL pass rush drills in the middle of the field, usually in two-on-two sets; WR vs. CB in one end zone; and RB/TE vs. linebackers and safeties in the other. The Rams did well in the two end zones (the wide receivers really abused the Cowboys corners, prompting Kenny Britt to dance around doing what looked to be an eating motion), but again struggled against the Cowboys defensive line.

And, it wasn't Dallas' first unit out there; four of their top five defensive tackles didn't dress for the practice. Indeed, injuries were the the story of the day. In his weekly meeting with the media, Tony Romo noted that today's scrimmage would be an opportunity for young guys to get some playing time, but with all the injuries, the only team the Cowboys could viably field would be made up of second- and third-teamers. Cole Beasley, Gavin Escobar and Ronald Leary joined the walking wounded to start the day and, in the most important event of the day, Zack Martin left with a neck injury, which was apparently just a stinger. His absence left Travis Frederick as the only starting offensive lineman on the field.

When I watched the Rams face off against the Cowboys defense in full team 11-on-11, I counted at most three actual starters wearing white jerseys. Mo Claiborne, DeMarcus Lawrence and J.J. WIlcox were joined by a motley crew of down-roster types (the defense is so banged up at present that Joel Ross - the team's seventh corner - was one starter, Andrew Gachkar drew one starting LB nod, and Ryan Russell and Ben Gardner were your second-team defensive tackles). As I mentioned previously, Nick Hayden, Tyrone Crawford, Terrell McClain, and Ken Bishop didn't dress, so it was no wonder that the Rams offense's greatest success came on interior runs.

After a special teams period wherein the Cowboys ran out their punt teams against the Raiders' punt units on the near field, the teams gathered for extended 11-on-11 work. Much of this was situational; the Rams ran through red zone and goal line material. But they also spent plenty of time running base plays in the middle of the field. Overall, the Cowboys defense held up much better than they did in one-on-one situations. In particular, they tightened up in the red zone, and the downroster D-line was able to get some penetration, disrupting several passing plays. On multiple occasions, Rams QBs were "sacked" or had  to rush throws, which bounced off of their receivers' hands. Also, Tyler Patmon (more on him later) scored a pretty interception in the left corner of the end zone in goal line drills, closing quickly on a late Nick Foles throw.

More on Patmon: the dude is tough. Remember earlier on camp, when he took on Dez Bryant head to head, and didn't back down? Today, as the teams were beginning the extended final 11-on-11 scrimmage that was to be the young guys opportunity to prove themselves without a premeditated practice script, he found himself on the field sans helmet and took on several Rams; heck, he would take on the entire Rams team if necessary.

As Machota's tweet suggests, Dez got involved, rushing over to help out his guys, leaving Jerry in the lurch:

In the process, he took a shot to the face and got sent to the locker room early. I noted yesterday that it was killing Dez not to be able to get on the field and shut up the jawing Rams corners by burning them repeatedly and letting them know that he is the king of these demesnes. And, that appears to have been an accurate assessment:

The Cowboys mantra of late has been "Finish the Fight." On Tuesday, this was reversed, as it was the fight that finished the practice. The day's second skirmish, which ended up being about six different fights over about an eight minute period, was extended and heated enough that, after a brief conference, Jason Garrett and Jeff Fisher decided it would be unproductive to continue. So, instead of a nice, long evaluation session for the down-roster fellows, the last fifteen minutes of practice saw Cowboys vs. Cowboys, with the Rams headed for the buses. My understanding was that they stuck to the plan, which was to introduce some situational work on the no-huddle. So, that's what we saw: a scattering of starters amidst a sea of third-stringers running through their paces against the clock at a furious pace.

Somehow, despite the uptempo nature of the final minutes, they were overwhelmingly anticlimactic...

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I'll close with a bit of good news, which comes form the other field: Darren McFadden looked very sharp in his 11-on-11 debut, taking the majority of first-team reps, showing good quickness and flashing in the passing game. On a day when injuries rendered the Cowboys almost unable to compete (and certainly unable to shut the Rams up simply by beating them badly, again and again), the fact that McFadden showed well is a veritable rainbow at the end of a hard rain.

Sorry folks; I won't be posting a more detailed report, but will be sharing the results of our annual mid-camp "cut the roster to 53" exercise. Stay tuned for that tomorrow morning...

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