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Cowboys Training Camp: Five Observations From Wednesday's Practice

Why are the tight ends getting thrown to so much, why is Dez Bryant field punts, why it's time to start hitting some other guys, and more thoughts from camp.

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Today was my second of three days at camp. Here are five impressions from today's practice.

Another Day With A Lot Of Underneath Passes To The Tight Ends

You've probably heard and read repeatedly about how both Dak Prescott and Jameill Showers throw a lot of passes to their tight ends, with phrases like "safety blanket" or "go-to-target" being thrown around liberally.

In principle, there's nothing wrong with throwing it to your tight ends. Jason Witten can still get open over the middle like it's nobody's business, Gavin Escobar astonishingly is back from his Achilles injury with a visibly improved athleticism and agility, and Geoff Swaim is proving to be a reliable underneath target as well.

But I wonder if the throws to the TEs are less a result of a specific play design and more the result of an inability by the young QBs to go deep.

I'll be the first to admit that I have a less than perfect vantage point from the sidelines in camp, so perhaps I'm simply not seeing enough or clearly enough. But it feels like many of the throws to TEs are checkdown throws that are made despite other receivers running free downfield. Again, I don't have the greatest vantage point from the side of the field, but this is something that we'll want to watch closely in the preseason games: Are the Cowboys QBs throwing beyond the sticks or will they be looking for the safe throws to a running back or TE underneath?

What The Heck Moment Of The Day

Everybody in camp was quietly minding their own business when out of nowhere Dez Bryant suddenly lines up for punt returns. What the ...

I hope this was just Bryant fooling around, because as exciting as he could be as a returner, I'd be scared to death to see him lined up back there in a real game.

It's Time To Start Hitting Some Other Guys

Familiarity breeds distress, and nowhere is this more evident than in NFL camps where with increasing camp length, more and more fights and scuffles break out among teammates.

The Cowboys haven't had a full-fledged brawl yet, but they came close today when Demarcus Lawrence and David Irving got into a shouting match and had to be restrained by teammates. Irving was upset with Lawrence "getting into his reach level" and did not mince words telling Lawrence about it.

"Brothers fight and get over it," Irving said after practice. "I messed up a call. That’s not good for the team, so you get that sometimes. But we’re cool. Family fight."

Yesterday, Leon Lett and Rod Marinelli got into a shouting match, in today's 10th training camp practice it was the players, and when tensions start building up like that it's always good to get fresh faces to focus on. The Cowboys have one more practice tomorrow before they get to face the Rams on Saturday, and with the way the Cowboys have been practicing (and with the memory of last year's brawl in the joint practice with the Rams), I'm expecting a very aggressive Cowboys defense to take to the field on Saturday.

"Everyone is ready," Irving said. "We’re pumped. We’re amped."

Excitement Building For Defensive Line

I know it's fashionable to pooh-pooh the Cowboys defensive line. But after two live practices, I have to admit that my excitement is building. Granted, these two practices coincided with the return of Tyrone Crawford, Terrell McClain, and Cedric Thornton to practice, but this D-line clearly has potential, especially inside.

I'm not quite sure when the Cowboys were last able to consistently bring pressure inside, probably in 2009, but certainly long before the switch back to a 4-3 scheme. The absence of inside pressure meant that opposing QBs could simply take two small steps up in the pocket to avoid what little outside pressure the Cowboys could generate.

That is going to change this year. I don't know that that will necessarily result in more sacks (though I hope it will), but the pocket for opposing QBs will get decidedly smaller and less comfortable.

Today, DeMarcus Lawrence would have had a sack against Tyron Smith during team drills, David Irving would have sacked Romo up the middle, and Ryan Russell had a would-be sack on Dak Prescott that exemplifies what this D-line can do: The DTs crashed through the middle of the line collapsing the pocket, Prescott couldn't step up to avoid pressure, and Russell got him coming from the outside.

And the Cowboys are deep at DT. They probably won't keep more than four (maybe five) guys. Tyrone Crawford, Terrell McClain, and Cedric Thornton are probably roster locks, and there's no way the Cowboys release 3rd-round pick Maliek Collins. That's already four guys, and leaves Jack Crawford, Rodney Coe, and Lawrence Okoye on the outside looking in.

That's a very good problem to have.

Rolando Who?

As far as I can tell, this is the depth chart at linebacker:

LB Depth Chart

SLB (Sam) MLB (Mike) WLB (Will)
First team Kyle Wilber Anthony Hitchens Sean Lee
Second team Justin Durant Mark Nzeocha Andrew Gachkar
Backup Derek Akunne James Morris Deon King
Damien Wilson Brandon Hepburn Jaylon Smith

That's a pretty crowded LB room, and even with Damien Wilson and Jaylon Smith not practicing, snaps are hard to come by for some of the down-roster guys, especially because the Cowboys are playing a lot of nickel sets with just two linebackers. Which means as one of the down-roster guys, you'll need to use every opportunity to stand out, not just the handful of reps you get every day.

And one number that had me repeatedly consulting my Cowboys roster printout during position drills was No. 40, James Morris. Morris stands out in drills and in the few reps he received.

Morris played at Iowa next to Anthony Hitchens, and came into the league as an undrafted free agent with the New England Patriots in 2014. Last year he managed to play in six games for the Giants. He may not make the 53-man roster, but if the Cowboys can stash him on the practice squad, they may have a potential MLB waiting in the wings.

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Being at practice isn't just about the Xs and Os, it can also be a lot of fun simply being there as a fan. Which is exactly what my son and I did, and since we were the only Germans among the 1,954 fans at camp, it proved to be fairly easy to call out to Mark Nzeocha in German and call him over for a chat and an autograph on my son's jersey.

Needless to say, my son plans on wearing the jersey on the flight home and surprising his mom with it next week. His mom of course is expecting him to come back wearing some Hollister, Abercrombie, or Ralph Lauren gear. Boy is she in for a surprise.