Today was my first of three days at camp. Here are six impressions from today's practice.
1. Line depth
In the first half of practice I had the chance to watch both the offensive and defensive linemen practicing up close, and the two units couldn't have been more different, but not at all in the way I had expected.
The O-Line, from the way they walk onto the field, the way they practice, and even the way they stand around between drills, exude an incredible swagger. But that swagger only extends to the five starters, Ronald Leary, and Chaz Green. After that, there is a whole lot of nothing. Frankly, many of the position-specific drills looked a like a remedial OL technique class taught by an increasingly irate Marc Colombo.
The D-line has none of the O-line's swagger, but seems to compensate that with a much more menacing approach to practice. And that's something you can see not just from the top guys, but also from the guys way down the depth chart. The D-line may not have the top tier talent the O-line has, but the depth is much better on the D-line than it is on the O-line.
In the end, it may not matter much, because the O-line may not need more than than seven or eight guys, but the eighth, ninth and tenth guys on the D-line appear to be much better than the eighth, ninth and tenth guys on the O-line.
2. Linebackers make a stand
In anticipation of Saturday's game against the Rams, the team focused on short-yardage and goal-line work today. In the "live" portion of practice, the offense scored on their first two drives, but the defense won five of the next six to take the day.
A lot of those defensive wins came at the hands of the linebackers. They lined up well, played with good technique, were quick to attack and made the plays when they counted. Anthony Hitchens, Mark Nzeocha, Deon King, Derek Akunne, and James Morris all did well.
But while that sounds encouraging, keep in mind that a lot of the defensive success came against the second- or third-team O-Line. When the first-team offense and first-team defense were on the field, the offense scored twice on TDs by Darius Jackson and TE Austin Traylor.
If the drop off from the starters to the backups on the O-line is as big as I expect it is, the defense may appear to look a little better than it actually is, and many of the accolades we hear and read about the defensive backups may not be worth too much. This will be something to watch for in the preseason game.
3. Prescott takes first-team reps and does well
It may have been the ninth practice of camp, but for Prescott it was the first camp in which he got to throw to Dez Bryant and Jason Witten, and he looked impressive and accurate in the process.
Prescott had 16 pass attempts in team and 7-on-7 action. He spiked the ball once, and one of his two incompletions came on a pass breakup by Morris Claiborne versus Dez Bryant 7-on-7 drills. 13 completions on 16 attempts isn't bad, even in camp.
4. Players returning from injuries
Tyrone Crawford, Terrell McClain, and Cedric Thornton all returned to practice and took part in some of their position-specific drills, but they did not take part in the live scrimmages.
Maliek Collins walked around with the D-line group during drills. He didn't take part and didn't wear pads, but he walked normally and didn't have brace or other support on his recently broken foot.
Devin Street was fully dressed in pads and a helmet, but didn't practice. Instead, he ran sprints with Assistant S&C Coach Brett Bech on the sidelines, and there was no indication of any back issue. Expect Street to rejoin practice shortly.
Damien Wilson and Andrew Gachkar were also doing some conditioning work on the sides. Gachkar was clearly favoring his thumb, on which he had surgery a couple of days ago, while Wilson, in his first appearance at camp, was wearing sunglasses to protect/conceal the eye he injured in a paintball accident.
5. How to get a leg up in your roster projections
The surest way to find out which players may have a firmer grip on a 53-man roster spot is to look at the first-team special teams units. Here's how the first-team units line up today:
Kick returns: Byron Jones, Jeff Heath, Anthony Hitchens, Keith Smith, Mark Nzeocha, Gavin Escobar, Geoff Swaim, Charles Tapper, Jack Crawford, Rod Smith and Lucky Whitehead as the returner. Interestingly, Morris Claiborne alternated with White head as the returner on the first team, and Darius Jackson got some reps as the second-team returner.
Kick coverage: Barry Church, J.J. Wilcox, Jeff Heath, Byron Jones, Keith Smith, Mark Nzeocha, Charles Tapper, Geoff Swaim, Rod Smith and Lucky Whitehead.
6. Screw it, we're sticking with Dak Prescott and Jameill Showers
Last week, I came across a Tweet from Jeff Sullivan that perfectly encapsulates my feelings on the Cowboys backup QB situation.
I've gone back and forth on this before deciding, you know what, screw it, let's see what Jameill Showers and Dak Prescott can do. #allin— Jeff Sullivan (@SullyBaldHead) August 4, 2016
The Cowboys lost Kellen Moore at a time when the price for a veteran backup QB was arguably the highest at any time during the offseason. That price will come down significantly after final cuts at the beginning of September, which is when the Cowboys will likely make a move for some veteran help.
Keep in mind that the waiver wire order is the same as this year's draft order, which gives the Cowboys the fourth-highest priority, meaning they get to sign players on the waiver wire ahead of all teams except the Titans, Browns, and Chargers.
Only after Week 3 of the 2016 season will the waiver wire order change. After Week 3, waiver wire priority is determined by the order of the NFL standings at that point.
Also, I bought my son a customized jersey at camp today.