The Tuesday practice was the last one before the Dallas Cowboys head to Canton to play the Pittsburgh Steelers in the Hall of Fame game. As such it was a bit different. More personally, it was the final one I attended during my brief sojourn to Oxnard. Without further ado, here are the things that I got out of the session.
- It has been mentioned that DeMarcus Lawrence is cleared to return to practice, although he did not join in and will sit out the game on Thursday. Not so well covered was that Trysten Hill was doing a lot more with the trainers, including cord work and some sled repetitions. It does not mean he is about to get on the field. But with the crowded group of interior defensive linemen, the team has some options how to handle him, including being on PUP for the regular season or stashing on IR.
- This was an unpadded practice. While the very first preseason game would not seem to merit a whole lot of preparation, this seemed to be very much a case of practicing how to prepare for a game. Even though they really don’t have much to scout in terms of the Steelers, they still were able to establish and rehearse the routine for the final practice of a game week. It is easy to forget that players have to learn how they are supposed to do things in practice, since it varies a great deal from team to team or level to level. With so many new faces to deal with, both on the roster and the staff, this is necessary preparation for the season.
- Another thing that was worked on was getting the punt and PAT teams on the field efficiently. Mostly it was making sure the players who are on the first team for each (at least in Canton) knew they were supposed to be out there.
- Most of the practice was on the far field, rather than the near one the way it had been on the weekend. There was not as much detail I can report (although Micah Parsons did snag an interception, for what it is worth), but that allowed me to focus on some other things.
- The practice was a lot easier to follow in some ways, because this was not a weekend. The crowd was much smaller and generally quieter as well, so it was easy to hear Mike McCarthy giving instructions. Once again, he was very situationally focused, calling out down, distance, field position, and time on the clock in many cases. He even would call out “TV timeout” or “two minute warning” to try and get the players comfortable with the actual flow of a game.
- He was also calling out “ones” and “twos” to put the right players on the field. However, this was also a practice situation, as the actual players who took the field were a bit more fluid. The easiest to spot were the QBs. Cooper Rush and Ben DiNucci seemed to take turns with the twos. Again, the Cowboys were practicing how to practice.
- Something that has been conspicuously absent when compared to camp during the previous coaching regime is 1-on-1 compete drills. McCarthy does not seem to value those at all. This was one of the things that made it so good to have some like minded individuals to discuss things. For this practice it was @rabblerousr and @McCoolBCB. While we can’t know for sure, after mulling this over we thought it was a function of McCarthy’s focus on situational football. Additionally, 1-on-1 drills do not often translate to things that a player will face most of the time in the league. Seldom will an offensive tackle find himself isolated on a defensive end. There will be double teams, stunts, and the quarterback may move to completely change the dynamic of what the rusher is trying to do. That fits with the drills over the weekend where only nine defenders would line up, and they would just have one side of the offensive line blocking while the pass rushers would throw different things at them.
- It all just comes back to how McCarthy is much more focused on things that are useful during games, and not things like facing off against one other player in what is really a motivational tool to get people fired up. Perhaps it is unkind of me to make this comparison, but the approach I saw seemed the more professional way to go. Those 1-on-1 drills have a bit of a high school/college flavor to them.
- There was a term that came up both in the stands during practice and in the livestream I did with @rjochoa and @DaveSturchio: Efficiency. There was a purpose to things and a flow of action, all done professionally and with McCarthy calmly but firmly in charge.
- As mentioned above, most of the action took place on the far field, so it was much harder to see how individual matchups were going even at something less than full speed. But when the position groups split up, Dan Quinn and the defensive line were right in front of my seat, with the ends closer. And yes, Quinn was right there, instructing and teaching. He would correct, and in one case got down in a three point stance to demonstrate how he wanted the ends to get off the line at the snap.
- I also spotted something very interesting. While Quinn had the defensive ends with him and Leon Lett was working with the tackles, one player was not where I expected. Randy Gregory spent the entire time working as a defensive tackle. I don’t want to read too much into this. It could just be that he wanted to get a different take on his technique. But if this is an indication of how they might look to move Gregory around to make him more effective, I am all for it.
- One small but kind of amusing note was that Blake Jarwin and Dalton Schultz were among the very last players to leave the field, getting in a lot of extra time with the jugs machine. They also worked in a few WWE style moves with the tackling dummies. The appearance was more of a couple of good friends helping each other get ready than a fierce rivalry to see who is TE1.
And that’s the end of my first ever trip to Oxnard. I highly recommend the experience. It’s not just the chance to see your favorite team in action. The weather is just about perfect, the scenery is beautiful, and I have never been anywhere with so many flowers growing. I hope you have gotten a little something from my accounts. It was certainly my pleasure to be here writing them.
We discussed these observations and much more during our Tuesday night livestream on the Blogging The Boys YouTube Channel. Make sure to subscribe to our channel (which you can do right here) so you don’t miss any of our videos!