Six random thoughts from Oxnard:
Have the Cowboys finally found a pass rush?
Here's a loose collection of pass rush highlights from Saturday.
- Tyrone Crawford beat La’el Collins on two successive snaps
- Taco Charlton beat Chaz Green and also got a win over La'el Collins
- Benson Mayowa almost got by Tyron Smith (looked like Smith had to hold Mayowa to stop him).
- Lenny Jones got by Kadeem Edwards.
- Stephen Paea beat Zack Martin (!!) inside and also squeezed through a Chaz Green / Jonathan Cooper combo.
- Richard Ash (in his first practice back from injury) put Travis Frederick on the ground.
- Cedric Thornton managed to push Travis Frederick about five yards back in one drill.
- ... and Maliek Collins wasn't even taking part in the drills.
The Cowboys’ offensive line is given a lot of credit – and deservedly so. But with all the credit the O-Line earns, it’s only fair to recognize the Cowboys’ pass rush. The Dallas defensive line won the upper hand in one-on-one pass rush drills on Saturday. DeMarcus Lawrence and Benson Mayowa had good outings against Tyron Smith, while Stephen Paea and Cedric Thornton were both able to get wins against Travis Frederick and Zack Martin. Taco Charlton and Tyrone Crawford also gave La’el Collins fits on the right side. It was an encouraging showing for the defensive first-teamers.
Any way you look at it, that's a lot of wins for the D-line. Sure, the O-line may not have had a great day, but that's still a lot of pressure from the D-Line.
I know it's early days, but still ...
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.
As you scan the reports for a specific position group, e.g. the wide receivers, you'll hear and read a lot of mentions about some players, e.g. Dez Bryant, Terrance Williams, and on Saturday even Brice Butler. But not much from other players. For the wide receivers, that would be the players farther down the depth chart.
Lucky Whiteheads release means the Cowboys are very likely locked in on five wider receivers, and none of the other receivers on the roster like Noah Brown, Andy Jones, Brian Brown, or Uzoma Nwachukwu have done much to force the Cowboys to consider keeping a sixth guy.
At safety, Byron Jones has played very well, and Jeff Heath has also shown up. But Robert Blanton and Kavon Frazier, ostensibly the primary backups, haven't shown much so far, and there's a good chance Xavier Woods could relegate one of them to third-team reps.
At defensive end, even down-roster guys like Lewis Neal and Lenny Jones have gotten some press, but David Irving and Benson Mayowa (who had to sit out some practices with knee soreness) were conspicuously inconspicuous for the most part so far.
Keep this in mind as you follow the reports from camp. For every player that made a highlight play, another one didn't.
The Jaylon Smith Show
Smith had a strong practice on Wednesday's padded practice, and had an even better second padded practice on Saturday. He took part in more team drills, was more active, and made more plays.
On one second-team run play, MLB Jaylon Smith knifed through the pulling offensive line to chase down Darren McFadden in the backfield and eventually force him out of bounds.
He also looked good in pass protection, nearly tipping a pass.
Smith was involved in more run stops over the course of the afternoon, and looked explosive and decisive during both 11-on-11 and 7-on-7 work.
The Cowboys aren't tackling to the ground during practice, so that's something that we'll still have to see from Smith during preseason games, but Smith is looking increasingly like a risk that could pay off big time for the Cowboys.
Just saw Jaylon turn on the jets to stop McFadden on a sweep. A few media people around me...all of us said WOW at the same time.— Derek Eagleton (@derekeagleton) July 29, 2017
The linebacker “ladder”
Something that you can't really appreciate on the many video clips from camp is how tall or short the players are. I've spent a lot of time watching the linebackers in camp, and Mark Nzeocha in particular, and the quickest way to find him among the linebacker group is simply to look for the second-tallest guy. Kyle Wilber is the tallest, Nzeocha is the second tallest.
- 6-4: Kyle Wilber
- 6-3: Mark Nzeocha
- 6-2: Sean Lee, Jaylon Smith
- 6-1: Damien Wilson, Justin Durant, Lucas Wacha, Kennan Gilchrist
- 6-0: Anthony Hitchens, Joeseph Jones
- 5-11: John Lotulelei
From all the years of playing in a 3-4, I'm still conditioned to think of linebackers as tall athletes (Wilber for example was initially brought in as a 3-4 OLB). But it looks like the Cowboys are prioritizing speed and skill over pure size. Though it won't hurt one bit if you've got some imposing size patrolling the field.
The Cowboys appear to be taking it slow with James Hanna and Geoff Swaim as they return from injuries, so Rico Gathers got some second-team repsps, with mixed results: Gathers had one catch and dropped another.
At this point, he hasn't yet shown enough for the 53-man roster.
The real refs show up in camp.
According to Todd Archer, the Cowboys had been using local college officials for the first few days of camp, but that changed on Saturday when they brought in NFL officials.
The refs have already been briefed on the new rule changes for 2017 and are enforcing the rules accordingly. This gives the players time to adjust to the new rules, but also allows the players to ask the refs for explanations or clarifications on certain calls. One rule change that is bound to generate some questions is a rule that provides even more protection to wide receivers:
Receivers running routes will now get protection as defenseless players, even if they’re within 5 yards of the line of scrimmage. Another tweak in favor of more points, and one that could generate a lot of flags.