The Cowboys returned to full pads today with a spirited workout that repeated some earlier points of emphasis. Turnovers, ball protection and the screen game got more reps, adding to the copious reps we've already seen on these points. The offense and defense worked on plays inside the offense's ten yard line.
Individually, we're seeing some jockeying. Some younger players who have been slow off the mark are starting to move. Others appear to be plateauing or hitting a wall. Many of these players will take a back seat to the many free agent veterans who will formally sign their contracts and rejoin the action tomorrow.
The practice began with an extended kickoff drill. Coach Joe DeCamillis led the longest kickoff return drill of the summer. The philosophy on returns appears to have changed somewhat. The formation had five men across the midfield line with two more just inside the outside blockers and five yards behind the line. A second pair of blockers deploys about ten yards to each side of the return man, just inside the yard markers. These deep two form the wedge.
In contrast to past approaches, the forward seven go forward at the kickoff, trying to blunt the coverage unit's charge on the defense's side of the 50. The back two then drop back and join the two-man wedge to form a wall to either side. It looks like a delayed punt return drill when run properly. It worked on a couple of occasions, setting up Akwasi Owusu-Ansah for two long returns.
After positional drills, the offense and defense scrimmaged 11-on-11. Stephen McGee got first run with the rest of the first team offense and made some plays against the 2nd defensive unit. McGee threw a crisp deep out to Kevin Ogletree for a long gain up the left sideline. The followed it with a well executed bootleg pass for John Phillips for another first down.
McGee then showed his youth, holding on to a second bootleg too long. He led his tight end towards a linebacker who almost intercepted the pass. McGee recovered smartly on the next play. He got solid max protection and completed a bomb to Ogletree, who ran a deep diagonal from the right flanker spot and got well behind Barry Church. Ogletree caught the ball in stride and was tackled at the defense's five.
The team broke into positional drills and the offense again worked out a half-dozen different screens. The receivers, tight ends and backs all got their versions of a screen called.
When the team broke into unit work Jason Garrett again supervised the wide receiver drills for the still absent Jimmy Robinson. Combination routes were again the order of the day, with post-corner-post routes, slants and gos, slant-up-and-outs, and slant-and-out routes being run. Raymond Berry would have approved.
The team then worked on the daily turnover circuit, bringing back the set of drills from day one, where the defense worked on punching the ball, stripping it from the quarterback, intercepting it and recovering fumbles on the bounce. The backs and receivers worked ball custody with the long bungee cable balls.
Dallas then ran a split field drill, with the receivers and corners going 1-on-1 while the other players ran a 9-on-9 drill. This was the Sean Lee drill, as number 50 stuffed several inside and edge runs.
Lee continued to make plays in the following 11-on-11. He undercut Jason Witten on a bootleg, but dropped a clean interception. He dropped and did seven pushups for his gaffe. Lee smothered Witten on a bootleg two plays later. The defense got the better of this drill, with all the starting linebackers looking very active. Tony Romo did make a couple of downfield throws, but his production depends entirely on his pass protection and his kiddie offensive line was up-and-down today.
Kicker Watch -- It was then time for the field goal drill. Today featured another duel between David Buehler and Dan Bailey. New signing Kai Forbath was nowhere to be seen. Bailey went 3-for-3, hitting from 45, 38 and 49 yards. Buehler split his four kicks, hitting from 45 and 38 but missing wide left from 49 and 53 yards.
The last 20 minutes were spent working on 11-on-11s, half with the ball starting on the offense's 37 and the other with the ball starting on the defense's 10. Rex Ryan kept the blitz fun going in the first drill, once dropping both outside linebackers Ware and Spencer and rushing the inside guys James and Lee. Ryan ran a lot more 3-4 base today, but even his base 3-4 has plenty of wrinkles.
Keith Who? Hurry back, Keith Brooking. Sean Lee is looking more and more comfortable working as the starting weakside inside backer. He was again around the football. Lee has dropped the bulky brace he used last year, opting for a sleeve. He's moving fluidly and smartly.
Another good day at the office for Kevin Ogletree. He made some nice catches on the short field, toe-tapping inside the goal-lines. He made a twisting grab of a Jon Kitna fade over good Josh Thomas coverage to end the day's work.
Up-and-down day for Manny Johnson. Johnson looks to me making a move the last couple of practices, but followed some big early catches with a couple of late drops. The door is open for Johnson to seize the 4th receiver role, but he needs more consistency. He dropped a low but catchable skinny post from Jon Kitna because he turned too late to find the pass; the ball hit his knees and then hit the turf.
Up-and-down day for Sam Young,. Young was beaten twice around the blind side in the first 11-on-11 drill of the afternoon. He upped his game as the day proceeded and won his 1-on-1 drill matchups.
Dueling: Tyron Smith's duels with Demarcus Ware are worth the trip. Ware still beats him cleanly from time-to-time by blasting hard around the outside edge. Smith is adjusting and stalemated Ware a few times. Smith still looks like a first-week rookie at times, but he's working against the best. Smith is not having much trouble with anybody not named Demarcus Ware. He handled Victor Butler in the 1-on-1 drills.
Keep an eye on Josh Brent. The defensive line dropped off a lot last year and appeared to miss Todd Grantham, who left to become Georgia's DC. New position coach Brian Baker has these guys working hard on hand usage and on quick penetration. Brent had a powerful day against Phil Costa and Bill Nagy. He used a powerful punch out to jolt Costa backwards on one play and followed it with a nifty swim move that left Costa flat footed. Brent used a rip move to throw Nagy to the ground in a later drill. He's building a repertoire. It will be veeery interesting to see how he works against Andre Gurode later in camp.
You don't hear or read much about John Phillips, because he looks like the guy who was tearing up camp last year, before he tore an ACL in the Hall of Fame Game. Phillips creates movement in the run game and is getting open regularly.
-- OLB Alex Daniels made some plays on edge runs and may be a bubble boy if he can perform consistently. It's early, but watch number 55 in the pre-season games to see if he can build up his game.
-- He's working hard but Harvardian Collin Zych looks slow rotating to the sideline against NFL receivers.