The Cowboys punched the clock on their second day in pads and brought the clock into their workouts. Jason Garrett had his offense working on elements of the two-minute drill today, ending the last 45 minutes with a series of 11-on-11 drills built around different end-of-half and end-of-game scenarios. The results were in line with what you would expect from evenly-matched squad: the offense won its share of plays and series, and the defense won its share.
The practice began with an extended kickoff coverage and return drill. Work the first three days had focused mainly on punts and field goals. Depth charts are very fluid, being day four of camp, but this is how the first team coverage unit deployed today:
AOA, Scandrick, Lee, Butler, Miller --- Kicker -- McCray, Williams, Cummings, Ogletree, Church
The offense and defense broke into positional workouts. Head coach Garrett again worked with the receivers, with WR coach Jimmy Robinson out a second day after being injured in yesterday's practice. The WRs and TEs drilled on a series of route. For the tight ends, it was the corner, the seam and the combo out and up.
The receivers worked extensively on the skinny post, and deep comeback with the cut at 18 yards and the spin route at depths of five and twelve yards. In this route the receiver runs what looks like a square-in at the designated depth, takes four steps towards the middle of the field, plants and goes 180 degrees towards the sideline. Garrett worked on the near sideline with the split ends, a group headed by Dez Bryant and Kevin Ogletree, two youngsters who need to raise their respective games to get the passing game off to a solid start.
A New Turnover Circuit
Rob Ryan and the boys unveiled another novel set of fumble and interception drills, showing that he intends for his defense to create a lot of turnovers. Today's circuit had one station where the defenders hit a tackling dummy, twisted it to the ground and hopped up and recovered a fumbled ball rolled into their paths. In the second station, the defenders dropped into the flats and picked off passes. Every defender, including the nose tackles.
Dallas next ran its first 11-on-11 drill of the night, with Ryan using nickel and dime sets against Dallas' 3 WR Ace set. A clock was used and the ball was set on a starting point of the defense's 47. Game situations were played. The was given roughly 40 seconds and no time outs. It did not gain a first down and the field goal team had to run onto the field and attempt a 58 yard kick without stopping the clock. The kick was executed, but David Buehler's boot landed several yards short of the crossbar.
The 2nd offense got the same short time drill against the second defense. It gained eight yards, giving Dan Bailey a shorter kick. He made his 52 yarder.
The team then carried out two drills simultaneously. On the north half of the field, the offense and defense went 9-on-9, with no corners or receivers on the field. All the plays were runs. Demarco Murray made a couple of dashes to each perimeter and showed off the speed that made him a high draft pick. The rookie linemen David Arkin and Tyron Smith also had their moments. Arkin turned Jay Ratliff on one stretch play to his side, helping create a nice-sized running lane for the back. On the right side, Smith handed Sean Lissemore the entire drill.
On the south end, the corners went one-on-one against the receivers and the tight ends then went one-on-one against the safeties. The routes practiced in the positional drills were here repeated and produced some big plays. Dez Bryant got behind Terence Newman on a combination route for a score. Dwayne Harris got open deep up the left sideline, but dropped his ball. Martellus Bennett burned a safety on the out-and-up and Titus Ryan scored with his combo route.
The offense and defense then went 11-on-11. Tony Romo and the 1st offense ran half a dozen plays against the first defense. Jason Garrett again ran a series of plays to foil Rob Ryan's blitzes. A fake reverse and throwback screen to Lonyae Miller gained five yards. Jason Witten stayed in to block, then released late on the next play for another five yard gain.
The defense stopped a Felix Jones stretch run for a yard. On play four, Kevin Ogletree ran a tight comeback route and caught a stop-fade against tight Terence Newman coverage. Tony Romo had made short steady completions against the blitz but was foiled when Mike Jenkins jumped a stop route and picked off a pass intended for Manny Johnson, returning the pick for a score.
The kickers came on for their daily field goal duel, which ended in a draw. After some one-on-one drills the ball was set at the offense's 41 for the final drill of the day, a timed two minute drill. The first and second offenses got 1:42 and a time out. Game conditions applied.
Romo shook off Jenkins' pick, taking the offense the full 59 yards in two plays. Romo beat a Ryan blitz with a toss over the middle to Felix Jones, who ran a circle route for 12 yards. On the next play Jenkins and Orlando Scandrick botched coverage on the slot duo of Ogletree and Bryant, turning Dez loose up the far sideline. Romo hit Dez in stride and the first offense won the first two minute drill.
Jon Kitna led the second team offense on and also scored in two plays. Martellus Bennett caught an eight yard out on the first play and Dwayne Harris got behind Josh Thomas on a go route from the seam.
Romo brought the first team back and moved the ball to the first-team D's ten, calling a time out with 15 seconds left. Romo beat corner blitzes and inside blitzes, getting all of his targets involved; Jones, Austin, Bryant, Ogletree and Witten each caught one of Romo's five completions. Buehler hit the short field goal attempt and practice was done.
This is the seventh Cowboys camp I have followed, going back to Bill Parcells' '05 version. I'm quite impressed by how much Jason Garrett, Rob Ryan and the other coaches have incorporated. They re not spoon feeding the players. They have not had mini-camps and they have not had rookie camps.
Yet, Dallas is working on sets and situations usually seen at the end of the first week or the beginning of the second under Parcells and Wade Phillips. The coaches are all business, and so far the players have responded well.
-- The Cowboys Ace sets (one back, one tight end and three receivers) had Dez Bryant and Kevin Ogletree on the edges and Miles Austin in the slot. Austin would flop to either side, meaning Bryant and Ogletree played both the split end and flanker roles in this package.
-- Demarcus Ware, Anthony Spencer, Victor Butler and Sean Lee are the four base linebackers in Rob Ryan's nickel and dime sets. Ryan will go 2-4-5 or 1-5-5. He'll also go 1-4-6. Ryan puts his two best rushing OLBs, Ware and Butler, on the same side, while the better coverage LBs, Spencer and Lee, line up on the opposite side. When he adds a 5th backer, Bradie James joins the fun and plays MLB.
Take Advantage While You Can: Running back Lonyae Miller has received a lot of reps so far, with Tashard Choice and DeMarco Murray suffering minor injuries. He's made the most of it, catching every screen thrown his way and running hard. The odds may be against him, regardless.
-- Rookie David Arkin is showing some fire at left guard. He's a rookie, with the requisite ups-and-downs (he pulled the wrong way on a toss play and hung his back out to dry) but he's also got an intensity and drive. I wouldn't say he's anywhere near being a starter, but he should get a lot of work in the preseason games to speed up his learning curve.
-- I'd like to see more of Akwasi Owusu-Ansah. He has started showing up around the football in the 11-on-11s and may have a shot at one of the Cowboys' safety spots. I'm not as bullish on Barry Church, but Dallas may only need one safety import instead of two.
It Appears that Mr. Smith Can Play -- Another day, another large amount of rust knocked off rookie right tackle Tyron Smith. Smith had some trouble with Demarcus Ware's edge rush yesterday, but today, Tyron locked out every blitzer off his edge, be it Ware, Anthony Spencer, Sean Lissemore, Sean Lee or Victor Butler. Smith showed the lateral quickness that made him a top-10 pick. On many plays he was set and waiting for his assignment to show up. He did have some problems with Ware in the 1-on-1 blocking drills, but he's two days into his pro career in pads. If he can dial in Demarcus Ware, he'll be fine.
Rookies Up, Rookies Down: I've tracked some of the kid receivers for four days and they're having typical rookie openings -- one day up, one day down. There's a bunch of candidates after the top trio of Austin, Bryant and Ogletree, which includes 5th round pick Dwayne Harris, 2nd year WR Titus Ryan, and newcomers Lyle Leong and Raymond Radway. Each of the quartet has made plays, but today, all of them had cases of the drops. If you want an early favorite, I'd say Harris, because I've seen him make more plays in 11-on-11s. He catches the ball between the hash marks, and burned fellow rookie Josh Thomas today for a long score in the two-minute drill.
-- Flexibility helps. Second year D-lineman Sean Lissemore has worked at left defensive end almost exclusively since camp opening, because Marcus Spears cannot report until the new league season begins. Today, he got a lot of work at nose tackle in Rob Ryan's funky psycho nickel and dime sets. Igor Olshansky also got a lot of reps inside. Jay Ratliff's practice reps are being limited, and we're seeing that with so many one and two linemen sets, Ryan wants to use all his limited linemen in as many ways as possible. Kenyon Coleman and Spears should fill out the six-deep group. I haven't seen any of the rookies or street free agents do anything extraordinary thus far.
Kicker Watch: A bad day for fans of backup kicker Dan Bailey. In fact, it was a bad day for Cowboys fans who want the kicking position settled. David Buehler was 2-of-4 on kicks between 34 and 46 yards. Bailey also missed two of six, pulling one kick left and clanking another off the right upright.
Bailey needs to be razor sharp. His kickoffs are flat and hard, and would give return men a good chance to build up steam. That's in contrast to Buehler, whose kickoffs are high, deep and hang lazily in the air. There's plenty of time for one of them to catch fire, but I get the sense Dallas' eventual kicker wasn't in the Alamodome today.