An interesting day filled with comings and goings. Let's start with the comings
The Cowboys, Phillips reports, have activated linebacker Rolando McClain from the Active Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list, paving the way for him to return to practice on a limited basis. His head coach approves:
"He’s a really smart football player and he’s a really interested football player," Garrett said. "He loves the game and you can see that. He loves talking about the game and talking ball and asking questions. "He’s one of those guys who sees the game really easily, and that’s a great thing. He can help some of the younger players. The discussions with the coaches are always really at a very high level, and he’s been certainly very engaged in all the different opportunities that he had."
As Archer points out, the Cowboys considered keeping McClain on PUP for the start of the season:
...which would have allowed him to continue to rehab with the team while serving the suspension. He would have missed just one more game had he stayed on PUP with players missing the first six weeks. The Cowboys have a Week 5 bye this year.
"That was the trade off," Garrett said. "It matters. There's only 16 of them."
And now the goings:
Of the first five cuts, four were as predictable as can be. One, cornerback Robert Steeples, offered the slightest bit of a change-up:
Steeples was signed to the practice squad last November and remained with the Cowboys through their playoff run. He saw an uptick in reps during training camp, largely due to a variety of injury issues at the cornerback position.
Before the 2013 draft, the "Football Scientist," K.C. Joyner, noted that his metrics figured Terrence Williams as that draft class' top big-play receiver. Seemingly picking up this thread, Archer presents some numbers that suggest T-Will has done the same at the pro level:
The last seven times Williams has touched the ball, going back to the 2014 playoffs, he has touchdowns of 76 (vs. Detroit Lions), 38 (vs. Green Bay Packers) and 60 yards. For his career he has six touchdowns of at least 38 yards. For his career, he is averaging 16.8 yards per catch.
Machota, the Morning News's Archer-in-training, takes a crack at the same story...
A pretty standard practice report, with some interesting observations:
J.J. Wilcox didn’t practice Monday night while he coped with neck spasms, which opened the door for Byron Jones to work with the first-team defense at safety. Wilcox’s injury doesn’t appear to be too serious, since he was conditioning with team trainers during practice. But it was interesting to see the coaching staff’s contingency plan in the event of an injury.
Jones the Younger opines on Jones the draftee:
"Not all guys could do it," Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones said Monday on 105.3 The Fan’s G-Bag Nation show [KRLD-FM]. "I think he’s unique in terms of the positions that he’s playing....It doesn’t seem too big for him. He seems to be able to step right in and play any of the positions that we ask him to play. He’s very versatile, which is very important for us right now. We couldn’t be more pleased with how he’s really absorbing everything out there. We really feel like whatever we ask him to do out there that he’s capable of doing it. He’s around the ball. I think the more comfortable he gets, the more plays he’ll make."
And now, thanks to David Helman and Jon Machota, it's time for our digital practice coverage - the last video material from practice we'll receive until next year's OTAs:
Cowboys PR just pointed out to me: this'll be the last full practice we're allowed to see until next May. So you better enjoy these vines.— David Helman (@HelmanDC) August 31, 2015
High pointing the ball with the DBs https://t.co/RRQajrVxtF— David Helman (@HelmanDC) August 31, 2015
Pass skeleton, featuring a Dez Bryant cameo. https://t.co/MAWEHHPwjl— David Helman (@HelmanDC) August 31, 2015
Ryan Russell was in the backfield before this thing even got started. https://t.co/rwsTmwMWvi— David Helman (@HelmanDC) August 31, 2015
Jerome Henderson was hollering at his guys to press on 3rd. Didn't help. https://t.co/iJxqlTAY7U— David Helman (@HelmanDC) August 31, 2015
Byron draws a flag for hands to the face. https://t.co/OkkaONVwtg— David Helman (@HelmanDC) August 31, 2015
Dez Bryant working on some short routes (far side) pic.twitter.com/QgNhtLdY5n— Jon Machota (@jonmachota) August 31, 2015
Three-wides in the red zone. 88 working in the slot pic.twitter.com/jB5TtgjqYp— Jon Machota (@jonmachota) August 31, 2015
Cowboys' O stalls in two-minute, so Bailey hits a 48-yard "game tying" FG. https://t.co/IDo0MhyAkx— David Helman (@HelmanDC) August 31, 2015
Wait for it, Terrance Williams doing what he does best pic.twitter.com/11RNPT0Jj9— Jon Machota (@jonmachota) August 31, 2015
Fake handoff to 11, throw to 21. Nice play pic.twitter.com/8SrrungyoT— Jon Machota (@jonmachota) August 31, 2015
Next we offer a point-counterpoint of sorts...
The expected uncritical collection of tired memes you'd expect from the national media:
Darren McFadden, Joseph Randle and Lance Dunbar combine to form one of the worst backfields this side of New England. McFadden has overcome some early training camp injuries, but this is not a reliable group. DeMarco Murray helped make the Cowboys a historically efficient offense last year, and a decline in the running game now looks inevitable. Tony Romo is going to have to throw more.
Let the Hall of Famer take the podium:
"If you played behind our line in the 70s or Troy [Aikman’s] line in the 90s or this line right here that’s being developed now, any running back can run the ball," Wright said. "This offensive line is developing into a great offensive line. They just need to stay healthy."
The injury to Scandrick, Eatman writes, is a terrific example of the "you can't have too many good corners" theory:
Yes, the loss to Orlando Scandrick, who will likely go to IR this week after undergoing surgery for a torn ACL, MCL in his right knee, will be tough to swallow. But we’re seeing why the Cowboys opted to keep Brandon Carr in the fold this year despite his $8 million salary in 2015.
We’re seeing why the Cowboys decided to draft a cornerback with the 27th pick, despite having quality depth at the position. And we’re even seeing why they’re staying so high on Morris Claiborne, who is now in the final year of his contract, seemingly as healthy as ever.
JJT makes a rare appearance on the ESPN Dallas pages to opine about Mo Claiborne. Specifically, he avers that, at some point in the 2015 campaign, Number 24 will be faced with the kind of situation that has made him question his confidence in recent years:
At some point this season, Claiborne will find himself in a similar situation. How he handles that play will tell us whether he has grown as a player and made himself part of the Cowboys' future. Or whether he'll eventually be the answer to a disappointing trivia question about the Cowboys' only first-round pick from 2010 to 2014 who didn't make a Pro Bowl with the team.
Stephen Jones said Monday that they expect teams to challenge Claiborne early in the season because of what he’s been through.
"I think he’s up for it," Jones told the G-Bag Nation show on 105.3 The Fan [KRLD-FM]. "I think he’s kind of hoping they do come at him because it will really give him an opportunity to play the ball and maybe make some big plays for us."
Machota reasons that, while this might lead to the former LSU standout giving up some big plays, it could also mean more opportunities for him to create turnovers, reminding us that Claiborne picked off 11 passes during his final two seasons at LSU.
The Broad One offers up his usual dozen observations. I thought all of them were insightful, and had a hard time choosing one to share with you. Finally, I settled here:
I understand that the Vikings were not game planning, but I didn't see any issues for Tyler Patmon playing out of the slot with the first defense. In the times that he was asked to cover, he was able to stay with his man and complete his assignment. When they asked him to play zone, he was where he needed to be as well. There are going to be games where he is pressured much more than this, but early indications were that he was prepared.
Ross cooks up ten delicious mouthfuls from the third preseason tilt. Here's one to chew on:
Observation 3. The Cowboys pass defense has given up a few long catches, but they have yet to give up a single passing touchdown through 3 preseason games. This secondary has shown that they'll bend but they're extremely tough to break. Much of this unit's success is due to an improved pass rush. However, a few of the defensive backs deserve some credit as well.
Speaking of observations, here are some long-awaited assessments of training camp from two of the best in the business:
Sturm conjures a cornucopia of coherent cogitations. One of them hit me hard, because it was what I had been saying for the duration of camp:
- The oddest part of this entire camp is that it sure seems like 45-50 of the 53 spots were pretty clear all the way back before the first bag was packed for California. Now, that sometimes just means this is a good team that has plenty of returning pieces from a contender, so I am not sure it is anything to get worked up about. That said, as we try to build drama to "cut down" days, there just hasn’t seemed to be a whole lot of pressure from below the cut-line during this camp. I imagine you would prefer several players from that bottom group trying to force you to keep them, but as we look at the long shots at Wide Receiver, Running Back, Offensive Line, or really anywhere on offense, I am pretty sure the exact 24 offensive players we thought would be on the 53 will be. Every one of them that we would have picked on July 1 will be on the offense (perhaps with the exception of whether they would keep a 4th tight end instead of a 3rd Quarterback). I don’t ever remember that much stability in any of my 18 training camps, but it sure has kept the excitement level of cuts to a dull roar. Usually someone rises up, but aside from Gus Johnson, who has that been? Most of us thought Lucky Whitehead was on the team back in May, because of his return ability. The drama is not high right now.
I'll add this for good measure:
The Cowboys are a good team and good teams have quiet camps – save for the occasional fight – and with the exception of the horrendous Scandrick story, this month has been properly under the radar nationally.
The folks over at the DMN recycle the most quotable moments from Bob Sturm's Oxnard Q&As. Here, he responds to a query about Darren McFadden as the team's best third-down back:
That is exactly how I feel. I wrote a breakdown of each of Dunbar, McFadden, Randle, and even Ryan Williams this summer which you can find in the archives. Anyway, in my McFadden piece, I came to this very conclusion that I think McFadden’s best fit might be as the 11 personnel RB that specializes in receiving and pass protection. McFadden can do that very well. Dunbar is a real weapon and can be used in many scenarios, but I don’t want him trying to keep 245 pound LBs from Romo. That won’t go well. Dunbar to me is a specialty back, not a 3rd down back. He also can play the slot opposite Beasley.
Archer concocts a master list of the best and worst from his Oxnard sojourn. I liked many of his choices, but found this on to be the most intriguing, as it was a name I hadn't considered:
Most improved, defense: Keith Smith He was brought in the first few days of camp because of injuries at lineback mostly because he knew the defense and special teams, but he has gone from being a camp body to someone with a chance to make the roster.
The standard cut-down-to-53 exercise, with a twist: Archer opts to cut down to 49 players instead of the normal 53, based upon a belief that that’s how the Cowboys and other teams do it. "We see them add players after the final cuts all the time," he writes, "The Cowboys always seem to add two or three players with waiver claims or low-level trades." So, where does he go lighter than we have been in our own 53-man exercises? Well, four spots (obviously). Here's one that connects to his "best of Oxnard post":
Linebackers (6*): Sean Lee, Rolando McClain (suspended), Anthony Hitchens, Andrew Gachkar, Damien Wilson, Kyle Wilber, Keith Smith
Comment: The big change is keeping Smith over Jasper Brinkley, who was guaranteed $2 million as a free agent. I might be taking a reach and the Cowboys cut Smith after last year because they wanted a better option defensively. He’s done a nice job on special teams and in limited playing time. But I can still see the Cowboys adding a special-teams type linebacker at the final cuts.