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News & Notes from Cowboys Camp: Three stars for Randy Gregory; Why front seven might be Cowboys’ deepest unit; More

Plus: Rico’s one-handed catch, Randy’s first practice sack, Dorance’s first-team snaps, and much more.

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NFL: Detroit Lions at Dallas Cowboys Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Practice Recap: Optimism For The Defense - Staff,
The defense gets top billing in this camp summary.

The Cowboys’ pass rush has had a productive training camp led by DeMarcus Lawrence and his cohorts. And just in case they needed a boost of talent, Randy Gregory entered into team drills for this first time on Sunday.

Even more impressive than that might be the Cowboys’ linebacker corps, though. Sean Lee entered team drills on Saturday afternoon and Chris Covington returned to practice on Sunday. Those additions give the Cowboys their full complement of linebackers, which gives them quite a bit of talent to work with.

Joe Thomas has stolen headlines in the early going of this camp, capping it off with an interception in the preseason opener against San Francisco. Leighton Vander Esch has also begun to flash his natural ability as he has gotten acclimated.

The real headliner, though, has been Jaylon Smith – who has appeared to take several steps forward in his development during the Cowboys’ stay in California. Smith has looked the part of a blue-chip talent during training camp.

It’s still early in the summer, to be fair. There’s three preseason games to play before the Cowboys even get to the games that count. But right now, Smith and the defense are showing plenty.

Star of the Day: Another Big Day For Gregory - Staff,
Three stars for Randy Gregory!

David Helman: I never would’ve expected to be writing about Randy Gregory so soon, but here we are. The long-discussed, seldom-seen pass rusher mixed into practice today — and he looked pretty damn good. Gregory probably only got about five total reps working with the defense, and he was held out of pass rush drills. But he looked completely comfortable out there. In the final period of the day, he executed an absolutely beautiful twist stunt and had a free run at Dak Prescott. Had it been a real game, he might’ve notched a sack. Not a bad start at all.

Mickey Spagnola: There were several choices I could have made for today, from Tavon Austin to Kadeem Edwards to Rico Gathers to Dorance Armstrong. But you know what, this is about how far this guy has come, not necessarily about all he did today. I mean, come on, Randy Gregory was practicing in pads today, taking part in team sessions for the first time since the end of the 2016 season. Who would have thought that back then when he was suspended the entire 2017 season? And in the Blue Period, reserved for the young guys, he would have recorded a sack. Good on him.

Rob Phillips: Defensive end Randy Gregory was in the backfield – often – in his first team-drill work of training camp, getting past Cameron Fleming and Jacob Campos near the end of practice. Gregory still looks quick off the line of scrimmage, but he also has power to his pass-rush skill set. I’m still amazed at how different he looks frame-wise. At 242 pounds, he’s added a lot of bulk to his upper-body and carries it well. The Cowboys are pleased with the way he’s worked back into practice. And although these aren’t full-contact reps, you can see his natural talent out here.

Jerry Jones spoke in Oxnard. We try to make sense of it – Calvin Watkins, The Athletic
Watkins tries his hand at translating Jerry-speak, with some interesting results.

On the front seven: The Cowboys might keep six linebackers on the 53-man roster. As of now, they’re as follows: Sean Lee, Jaylon Smith, Leighton Vander Esch, Damien Wilson, Justin March-Lillard, and Joe Thomas. Sixth-round pick Chris Covington has missed valuable practice time due to injury and has returned for the last two days. He’s on the bubble but the coaching staff does value him. The Cowboys could try to hide Covington for the final three preseason games by not playing him, then cut him on the final cut day. If they slip him through waivers, they could then sign Covington to their practice squad.

As far as the defensive line, it looks like 10 might be available Week 1. Of course, Kony Ealy and Charles Tapper are on the bubble. Ealy is getting some looks at defensive tackle instead of end, as the team tries to get him going. Tapper remains at end. The Cowboys will not have David Irving for the rest of training camp because he’s in a substance abuse facility and he’ll miss the season’s first four games due to an NFL suspension. The team will need to make another roster move to get Irving on the 53. Maliek Collins, who’s out with a foot injury, is getting closer to seeing some playing time.

The defensive line group might be the Cowboys’ deepest unit.

On Randy Gregory: Gregory got his first extensive practice time in pads Sunday. He recorded a sack and displayed a series of pass-rush moves from a bull rush to a spin. He didn’t look too rusty and in fact, he looked quick, which is something the Cowboys want. Gregory got looks on all three defensive line groups and will continue to do so until the Cowboys can find a spot for him. Gregory lined up at right defensive end, Tyrone Crawford and Taco Charlton’s spot. So you could say he’s backing them up for now. Jones also said he expects Gregory to make an impact for the Week 1 game against Carolina and that he was worth the second-round pick.

Here are 5 thoughts from Jerry Jones about camp - Clarence Hill, Star-Telegram
Jerry Jones is excited about Randy Gregory, Dak Prescott, Jaylon Smith, and Tavon Austin.

On Randy Gregory: Jones said he is excited about what he’s seen from Gregory. Gregory won’t play in Saturday’s home preseason opener against the Cincinnati Bengals but he expects him to be ready to go for the season opener against the Carolina Panthers.

“I just know that his attitude, his want to, his genuineness, those are things that I’ve heard players talk about but I would say it’s mirrored all the way through and up through the organization,” Jones said. “Everybody here is rooting for him, he doesn’t want any slack but I know he sees the care that everybody has for him. I did notice some of his trademark skill out there on a couple of snaps that he took out there today. You could see that sleekness/sleuthness? He’s just got the ability to create some pressure.”

On Tavon Austin: Jones said he wanted see more from the offense against the 49ers but didn’t need to risk any injuries. He liked the way both the offense and defense competed. But he specifically pointed out the energy and spirit of receiver Tavon Austin, comparing him to Hall of Famer Michael Irvin.

“I like the energy that No. 10 is bringing,” Jones said of Austin. “That’s inordinate because just by the nature of how we got him here and his pedigree, for him to bring along that really, it’s Michael Irvin-ish as far as the energy that he brings. I know the guys appreciate him. I certainly do from my perspective to have that kind of impact on his teammates at a time you have to call on it, I used to call it two-a-days, but training camp.

Jaylon Smith has Jerry Jones feeling justified - Todd Archer via Facebook
Jerry Jones dominated the headlines, but Archer also took note of what went on during practice.

** Dak Prescott focused on the deep ball in one on one drills. For the most part his throws were accurate and he gave his receivers a chance to make plays. He and Terrance Williams hooked up of a touchdown on a long ball over CB Anthony Brown. He would have had a second one to Lance Lenoir, but the receiver could not hang on to the pass in the end zone after a double move. Prescott completed 10 of 16 passes in seven on seven and team drills, bringing his camp total to 97 of 139 (70%).

A little more on Prescott’s accuracy. It’s not just about completing a pass, it’s about giving the pass catcher a chance to make a play. He threw a check down to tight end Dalton Schultz and hit him in the right shoulder, dictating to the tight end the defender was to his left and how to turn up field. Solid play.

** Rookie DE Dorance Armstrong lined up with the first team in the team run/play action period. The fourth round pick is making the coaches notice. He is active and does solidly against the run and the pass. In one on one pass rush work he was able to work up and under Fleming to get a pressure.

** Rookie LB Chris Covington has been limited in camp because of a case of bronchitis. After making a good play in individual drills, Garrett said, “Good to see ya 5-9,” referring to the rookie’s jersey number. Covington has a lot of catching up to do after missing so much time.

Watch Cowboys TE Rico Gathers make one-handed catch in Sunday's training camp practice: 'That's my style right there' - Brandon George, SportsDay
Rico Gathers had a spectacular catch yesterday.

Gathers was all smiles when the media approached him after practice, and the tight end tried to play it off as just another play.

”It’s another catch in the books,” Gathers said, before another question was asked. ”If the ball is the air, go get it. That’s my style right there. If you put it up, hey, only I can get that.”

Gathers was asked if he believes his one-handed catch could help propel him to make the final roster.

”Nah, because there is more to this game than making plays like that,” Gathers said. “There’s an every-day aspect of it. Coming in, critiquing the blocking, and just being an every-day guy. You can make that catch one day than, shoot, and you don’t make no more catches for two weeks later like that. Coach doesn’t like flash players.”

Observations from Oxnard: Scott Linehan really liked this play from Dak Prescott, Terrance Williams - Staff, SportsDay
Some choice quotes from Sportsday's camp summary:

Per David Moore: Owner Jerry Jones singled out WR Tavon Austin for the inordinate amount of energy he brings to the practice field. “It’s Michael Irvin-ish as far as the energy that he brings,” Jones said. “I know the guys appreciate him.”

Per Brandon George: The Cowboys have been lining up Tavon Austin in several spots and even throwing him deep balls: "I love it. It’s all about getting the ball in space for me. That’s all I really want, get the ball in space and have a little fun and show what God blessed me with."

Per Kate Hairopoulos: Jerry Jones said he expects DE Randy Gregory to be ready for season opener at Carolina. "Just know that his attitude, his want tos, his genuineness, those are things that I've heard players talk about but I would say it's mirrored all the way through p through the organization."

Cowboys 2018 training camp: Randy Gregory looks good in team drills - Michael Sisemore, Blogging The Boys
Sisemore's always excellent practice summary gives you all the sights and sounds you need to stay up to date on what happened in Oxnard.

Kris Richard is here, and so is a new attitude for the Cowboys defense – Calvin Watkins, The Athletic
In addition to his camp summary, Watkins offers up a very readable deep dive into what Kris Richard has brought to Dallas. An excerpt:

He wants cornerbacks to press more on the outside and for the free safety to take away the middle of the field. If the corners eliminate deep throws and get inside position, the Cowboys’ secondary is doing its job.

This brand of football is different from what the Cowboys employed last season. Sure, the Cowboys played some man-to-man, but ultimately, they were in a zone scheme meant to keep the receivers in front of them. It was a safer, more passive scheme.

Now the Cowboys’ secondary will play aggressively and hope to force offenses off the field.

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