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Cowboys 2015 Training Camp Practice Summary: Thoughts From The Blue-White Scrimmage

A collection of thoughts and observations now that the annual Blue-White Scrimmage has marked the completion of training camp's first phase.

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

As today's Blue-White Scrimmage was widely broadcast and remains available for your perusal, I won't spend much time herein discussing the blow-by-blow. A quick perusal of the tape will reveal that the affair was largely situational, with the Cowboys revisiting the red zone and two-minute work they had covered in recent practices, and ramping it up by imposing real game scenarios. Perhaps because these scenarios induced a greater competitive sense within the players, this was a spirited affair, yet seemed more controlled that yesterday;s practice, when emotions spilled over.

During the one-on-one pass drills, we were treated to the steady improvement made by Randy Gregory. On his first rush, against "the pickle," R.J. Dill, he displayed impressive explosiveness and the ability to dip and bend the corner (his shoulder might have been as low as a foot off the ground) without sacrificing speed. On the next play,  he went hard upfield, then turned into the tackle, driving him back into the quarterback.

As has been mentioned elsewhere, Gregory has been seeing a lot of time with the first team on the nickle. My pet theory is that the coaching staff wants him to get as many snaps as possible against the heavy-handed Tyron Smith (consider: how much better is he going to get going up against Dill every day?). They realize that he has special skills, but needs to develop a variety of moves. Against Dill, he won't need to do that, as he can win most snaps with an upfield rush.

As I've said many times in the last ten days, training camp can be understood as "Football University," and that today's scrimmage would serve as a mid-term review for the players, especially the down-roster types, with the exam itself to be Thursday's game against the Chargers in San Diego. The professor still has the exams in his office, but the early returns suggest a wide spectrum of grades. Some of of the young-uns acquitted themselves quite well; other have a ways to go.

On Sunday, the playlist on both sides of the ball consisted of familiar material. We saw some of the nickle and exotic blitz material from camp's first four-day phase, saw plenty of the 11 personnel, no-huddle and hurry-up stuff from earlier this week and, when the offense drove deep into enemy territory during the full team periods, a bit of goodness from the playbook's short yardage and end zone pages. In this way, the afternoon served as a suitable study session - and, I feel sure, the coaches will offer a lengthy and pointed assessment of their practice tests.

As per usual, the stands filled up at least ninety minutes before the players came on the field, and the anticipation level was very high. Every year, there is a moment during the Blue-White Scrimmage when the assembled multitudes suddenly realize that "scrimmage" doesn't mean that they will see a game so much as a glorified practice that consists largely of snaps by the third team. When this realization dawns, a collective quiet settles on the crowd. Today, that moment never materialized, which is a testament to the way the afternoon was organized and the passion with which the players played what was indeed little more than a glorified practice.

One of the key changes to the day's schedule was that they eliminated the position group period, thus leaving more time for the full team periods. As a result of this change, the afternoon seemed really to hurdle along; the Cowboys moved from competitive period to 11-on-11 and back again. As both of these periods tend to be more physical and action-packed, the capacity crowd received a fair representation of what they came for.

There were treated to several line-up changes, one of which was that La'el Collins worked with the first team today. Lest we think that this signifies a demotion for Ronald Leary, it's best to listen to Fish:

Another interesting substitution was that Jameil Showers took third team quarterback snaps instead of Dustin Vaughan. One of the offseason's enduring memes was the "will Dustin Vaughan develop enough to knock Brandon Weeden off the roster?" I must confess that I found this to be a bit overly enthusiastic at the time; watching Vaughan in camp, it's not only apparent that he had no chance of unseating Weeden, but is falling behind Showers. Given how deep this roster is, I'd be shocked to see him make the 53. Think about it: would you rather have a talented sixth corner (Tyler Patmon) or fourth tight end (Geoff Swaim) or a third quarterback who has little to no pocket presence, cement feet, and a poor decision making?

His failings are even more obvious when he follows Tony Romo onto the field. The play of the day was a Romo pass to Cole Beasley (to beat a dead horse, Beasley is not only uncoverable, but has achieved a mind meld with Number Nine) in which Romo moved ever-so-slightly in the pocket, waiting patiently until Beasley came uncovered, whereupon he whipped a pass to Number Eleven, who caught it in stride and sauntered into the end zone.

The almost play of the day was, well, almost made by Deontay Greenberry who, in the second competitive 7-on-7 period, leapt high over Byron Jones to grab a Tony Romo pass in the end zone. The play resembled the infamous Dez Bryant "finger" catch against the Giants in 2011, when Bryant skied to cradle a ball only to come down ever-so-slightly out of bounds. Similarly, Greenberry made a supremely athletic play to gather in the ball, only to land out of bounds.

The day's most positive note was the return to full participation of linebacker Sean Lee. Day by day, Lee has been getting blended into the full mix, playing an increasing percentage of the various practice periods. Today, he played the entire kaboodle, and made several athletic plays. Several times, he made a guy go wide by shooting a gap in the running game. My favorite instance of this was a play near the goal line, where he saw an opening and shot through it with impressive suddenness, forcing Joseph Randle into a bunch of defenders who had gathered on the edge.

The last item on today's checklist concerns injuries. Since we're ten days into camp, there is a fairly significant list of injured player who either didn't participate in today's practice or enjoyed only limited participation. Obviously, Dez Bryant was sidelined, but so were Nick Hayden, Doug Fee, Lance Dunbar, Darren McFadden, Antwan Goodley, Tyler Patmon, Rolando and Terrell McClain, Orlando Scandrick, Brandon Carr, and Chaz Green. While this seems quite substantial, it pales in comparison to the same list at this juncture two years ago, when eighteen players - that's a full 20% of the roster - were unable to dress for the practice, and many of them had more debilitating injuries than this year's list of injured.

If the coaches' number one training camp priority is to avoid significant meaningful injuries - and I can guarantee that it is - the Cowboys have had a successful camp, indeed. On Monday, they will continue to build on that success. I'll be there to give you all the inside scoop.

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