Today was my third and final day at camp. Here are five impressions from today's practice.
WR Depth "Best In A Long Time"
Tony Romo made some minor headlines when he said, "we’re as deep at the WR position as we’ve been in a long time," but he was just being Captain Obvious as the Cowboys are really stacked when it comes to their receivers.
Dez Bryant is finding his way back to his 2014 form, Terrance Williams has had a very good camp, Cole Beasley is being his usual quick and shifty self in the slot, and Brice Butler has been getting some positive press, even if I didn't see all that much from him over the last three days. And that's just the wide receivers.
At tight end, Jason Witten may not be the fastest guy in the NFL running a straight line, but he still creates separation faster than 95% of his NFL peers. For Gavin Escobar, the Cowboys' much-maligned second-rounder from 2013, his Achilles injury may have been a blessing in disguise: he's returned with visibly improved athleticism and agility. Geoff Swaim has had a great camp so far, proving a reliable receiver and blocker all over the field as he took advantage of James Hanna's absence, Escobar's reduced snap count, and Witten's occasional veteran day off.
That's already seven quality receivers, and I haven't even factored in James Hanna, Devin Street (both injured during my time in camp), Lucky Whitehead, or any of the many rookies.
Today, the Cowboys lined up almost exclusively in 3-WR sets (or 11 personnel). That may have simply been the focus of the particular part of the playbook they were installing today, but it may have also been a result of the many options the offense has in the receiving game.
In any case, with this much quality, depth may have become a little more expendable at WR than at other positions, which may partly explain why WR Ed Eagan was released wehn the Cowboys needed to add an offensive lineman.
It also means that it will be hard for any of the rookies or down-roster veterans to make the 53-man roster. Andy Jones has become the focus of some UDFA fantasies, but while he is a reliable pass-catcher, it's going to very hard for him to make the roster over a veteran.
Darius Jackson Is Preparing For A Breakout Preseason Opener
I didn't count the reps for every single player in today's practice, but if I had, I'm pretty sure Darius Jackson would have had the highest number of reps. Jackson was in on the second- and third-team offense during the full-team portion of practice, and was heavily involved in special teams work as well, working as the second-team kick returner. And to top it all off Jackson was practicing catching kickoffs before the official start of practice.
Jackson will see a lot of action on Saturday (see how I successfully avoided a Carl Weathers-related pun?) against the Rams, and judging by what we've seen in camp so far, the Cowboys should be very pleased with their sixth-round pick, both as a runner and as a pass catcher.
DE Mike McAdoo With A Chance For A Spot On The 53-man Roster?
With the Demarcus Lawrence and Randy Gregory suspensions, the Cowboys will have to go a little longer at DE to open the season. But that may not be the only reason Mike McAdoo has a chance at a roster spot.
McAdoo left practice with a trainer yesterday after hurting his foot in a special teams drill, but he was back on the field today, and showed up as the RDE on the second team DL for a while. McAdoo, who's listed at 6-7, 245, doesn't look like the prototypical edge rusher and stands out like a geeky kid in position drills with his DL position group, but he's an extremely slippery guy as a pass rusher.
Today, OT Chaz Green got the better of McAdoo in a 1-on-1 matchup during the compete period when Green managed to get his hands on McAdoo and overpower him.
Chaz Green won his compete period matchup against Mike McAdoo. Tony Romo clapped for the second-year OT pic.twitter.com/UaBsGgkHUA— Jon Machota (@jonmachota) August 11, 2016
But yesterday, McAdoo forced a fumble on receiver Rodney Smith, and today he added a batted pass to his resume.
Not a bad situation for a guy who entered the NFL in 2011 after being suspended in 2010 due to an academic scandal at North Carolina. Since then he's bounced around the football world, most recently playing for the CFL's Winnipeg Blue Bombers and the Arizona Rattlers of the Arena Football League.
Disappointments In Camp
A lot of reports from camp tend to focus on the players that stood out, and often these players stood out because they did things particularly well, which means that the overall reporting from camp will generally be more positive than negative. But that doesn't mean that everything is just hunky dory.
Today was the first of the three practices I observed where the first team offensive line played like the line everybody expects them to be. On Tuesday and Wednesday, the line allowed inside pressure repeatedly, and while that may be due in part to the strength of the DL, you don't want to see that too often from your pedigreed O-line. They were much better today, keeping Romo warm and dry in the pocket for most of the day, but this is a timely reminder that we shouldn't take anything for granted.
I'll phrase this next "disappointment" as a positive, because I'm not sure that disappointment is the fitting term: Orlando Scandrick and Morris Claiborne in particular have been so good in camp that Brandon Carr has not been able to keep pace. Carr is still much better than any of the remaining corners, but if I were making roster decisions, I'd have Scandrick and Claiborne as my starting corners and only bring in Carr in the nickel when I'd move Scandrick to the slot.
There are only seven or eight offensive linemen worth a roster spot. With the starting five the Cowboys have, depth at OL may easily be viewed as a luxury problem, but that can change really fast once injuries hit. Ronald Leary is a five-star backup and plays like one, and Chaz Green shows promise but needs to become more consistent. Add Joe Looney as an experienced vet, and that's it. All the other guys are interchangeable and not worth a roster spot. Jake Brendel may be a candidate to develop on the PS, but the Cowboys will likely have to get active on the waiver wire after final cuts if they want better quality depth.
The Cowboys have Rod Smith and Keith Smith competing at fullback, and it's hard to see how either of them makes the roster - based on their impressions at practice. But fullback is a position you can't really judge until the hitting starts in earnest, so it'll be interesting to see whether either of the two offers any upside in the coming preseason games.
Players On The Resistance Cords
When the trainers have players working on the resistance cords on the sidelines, it's usually a sign that the player in question will return to practice shortly. Maliek Collins was working the cords today, and he'll likely be back soon. Jaylon Smith was also working the cords, as he's been doing for a while now, but he's still wearing his foot brace and no return is imminent for Smith.