After a five-day break from practices as the team traveled to and from Canton, practice resumed today as usual in Oxnard. Here are seven things I took away from practice today.
1. How to get a leg up for 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 kick return unit lined up today:
Jeff Heath - Damien Wilson - James Hanna - Kavon Frazier - Chidobe Awuzie
Mark Nzeocha - Geoff Swaim - Kyle Wilber
Keith Smith - Rod Smith
Different players lined up at the return spot over the course of practice, so it doesn't look like the Cowboys have settled on who their returner will be yet.
I was too far away to see all 11 players lining up on the first-team kickoff unit, I'll look to add that tomorrow. For now, the 10 players above look to have a roster spot locked down, perhaps not as a core player on offense or defense, but certainly as a core special teamer.
2. DT Lewis Neal gets a promotion
DT Lewis Neal has gotten some good reports early in camp, even if I had a hard time seeing that in the early practices, largely because I'm usually quite far away from the O-line/D-line drills.
But today Neal got some snaps with the first team as the 3-technique. Obviously, Maliek Collins is still out with a hip injury, so it's not like he's outplaying everybody, but his quickness and propensity to get up the field has gotten him noticed enough to warrant some first-team work.
3. Good day for the edge rushers
DeMarcus Lawrence had some good snaps against Tyron Smith. Smith of course hadn't practiced in a while, but you take what you can get against Tyron.
Taco Charlton was also quite active today, getting into the backfield for what would have been a tackle for loss. He also had two wins in 1-on-1 pass rush drills. Charlton had a somewhat slow start to camp, but he's been catching up fast in recent practices.
Tyrone Crawford may not have the flashiest pass rush moves, but he's easily the strongest of all DEs, and today used that strength to bully through the O-line for what would have been a sack of Prescott. Crawford has locked down that LDE spot.
4. Injured players:
Chaz Green was on the field in full pads and helmet but did not participate in team drills, instead working with a trainer off to the side.
Anthony Brown was working the cords on the sidelines, always a sign that he could be back soon. Jourdan Lewis initially did some jogging on the sidelines before taking up the slack on the cords.
Ryan Switzer was back in pads and helmet but was not a full participant. He took part in drills and caught some kicks and punts in return drills.
5. The rotation at LG
Byron Bell and Jonathan Cooper were alternating first-team snaps at left guard today. Chaz Green's extended absence with a shoulder injury may have made this a three-man battle for a roster spot instead of a two-man battle.
6. Who's the return man?
Nine players were lining up for kick returns during warmups early in practice. I guess that position hasn't been settled yet.
7. More throws to the running backs?
When the Cowboys started their initial 11-on-11 drills (which are usually conducted at half speed) almost all the passes went to the running backs.
In fact, the first six passes went to Ezekiel Elliott, Darren McFadden, Rod Smith, Keith Smith, and Ronnie Hillman, with one throw out of the set going to WR Javontee Herndon for good measure. And there's a chance I missed a throw to Alfred Morris. The Cowboys have been throwing a lot of dumpoffs to the running backs and fullbacks in practice this year, though not quite as often as today.
The Cowboys have said they want to get Elliott more involved in the passing game. I wonder if those early throws in practice were an early indication of that, and/or if this is some early game planning for the Rams on Saturday.