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Cowboys 2015 Training Camp Practice Summary: Getting A Giddy-up In The Hurry-up

Observations from the Cowboys’ seventh training camp practice, which featured much of the same material we have seen of late, plus work on the hurry-up and no-huddle offenses.

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

I like to view training camp as a series of discrete three- or four-day units, each of which builds to the day before an off day. Imagine that you are one of the Cowboys' coaches: the last thing you want to do is to be in the middle of teaching, say, goal line, and then have a scheduled day off for your players to forget everything they have been taught. Instead, it's better policy to allow each section of the playbook to be taught, polished and honed and, we hope, absorbed by fresh, rested minds and bodies.

With that in mind, we should understand today's camp doings as an intense study session on material that the team has been studying for the past two days. To illustrate this, allow me to go back to one of Jason Garrett's pre-practice press conferences last year, when he told the assembled reporters that his definition of "fight" - the word printed on team-issued t-shirts last year - was, for him, akin to a student who studies for a test by doing well every day in the semester. If we can accept this definition, 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 collocation of lessons: 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 and subjecting them to the pressures of time. The result was work on the hurry-up and no-huddle.

That this was going to be the day's leitmotif was evident early on. In the opening 11-on-11 walkthrough, Romo used hand signals (patting the helmet, holding one thumb up) to his receivers, as a way to make use of a practice segment conducted at anything but a frenzied, hurry-up pace. In the second full team period, these manual semaphores changed to audible one-word signals: "Redskins!" or "Parcells!" (later, in the final full team period, he called out "Cowboys!"). If you have been reading the blog for a while, you may remember that I reported the Cowboys were going to incorporate elements of the Earhardt-Perkins offensive system. Many observers have pooh-poohed this notion, since the offense has looked the same on television. But it's in these moments, when Romo can call out the pattern combination with a single word as his receivers hustle to the line (and that we can hear it!), that we can see the E-P concepts in action.

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 patterns mixed in. When the team broke position groups, we saw the various skill position guys working on the nuances of these short patterns, most of which require quick, decisive cuts. Then, they were a key element of the 7-on-7 work in the second competitive period.

It was during this period that Dez Bryant appeared to get a cramp or tweak a hamstring:

With Dez sitting out the final full team period as a result, the little guys took over.  As the first team tried to work the ball downfield in a no-huddle situation, Romo hit Cole Beasley on an intermediate crosser, whereupon he was immediately sandwiched by two defenders. Unfazed, he took his position on the line as Romo directed the offense to hurry up so he could spike the ball and stop the clock. Once time was stopped, the full extent to which Beasley was dazed became apparent. He spent most of the "time out" shaking it off. On the final segment of practice, Lucky Whitehead, inserted into the first team with Bryant out, caught a lovely deep out to set up the "winning" Dan Bailey field goal.

I was struck during practice by the degree to which Romo has developed a rapport with his receivers. For years, he and Jason Witten have shared the same brain. It took a while, but he is now regularly on the same page with Dez Bryant as well. Now, he has achieved the football equivalent of the Vulcan mind meld with Beasley. With all three guys, Romo seems willing (and perfectly comfortable) throwing to them while they are covered. More than that, however, he understands how they will run their patterns and "throws them open." For example, Romo threw a pass over the middle to Witten during red zone work that Number 82 was able to take for a few more yards, getting the ball down close to the goal line. Later, on the same play, Dustin Vaughan hit Geoff Swaim, and the connection wasn't nearly as smooth; because Swaim had to gather in the ball before making his move, he was "tackled" at the spot of the reception.

Speaking of Romo and his receivers, I'd like to end this summary with a wee intellectual exercise. Typically, after about two weeks of camp, I attempt to rank all 90 players on the roster, just as a way to gain further clarity about the roster's relative strengths and weak spots. I'll do that in mid-August, after a weekend spent at camp with my podcast partner, Landon McCool. As an appetizer, I'd like to offer the top ten players, regardless of positional import and considering camp performance, as of August 6:

1. Tyron Smith
2. Dez Bryant
3. Zack Martin
4. Tony Romo
5. Dan Bailey
6. Greg Hardy
7. Cole Beasley
8. DeMarcus Lawrence
9. Jason Witten
10. Travis Frederick

There you have it folks. Before you get you knickers in a bunch, as they say, be aware that this is subject to change as the roster is further sorted out in the coming days. I know I'll be there, in the front row, watching intently...

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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