Posted: 10:39 p.m. Sunday, July 28, 2013
As I mentioned in my recap of yesterday evening's practice, the Dallas coaching staff gave their students a mid-term exam on Sunday afternoon. It was a fair test, one that covered familiar territory and didn't ask them questions from chapters of the playbook that had yet to be covered. To wit: the team reviewed the material from the past week, including the competitive situation drills: seven-on-seven and OL-DL sessions. These were mixed in with a series of special trams periods peppered with scrimmages in which the first team units butted heads, followed by the second team and so on.
Early in camp, the defense was regularly carrying the day. On Sunday, the first team offense prevailed. Tony Romo lead his guys on two consecutive scoring drives to start the scrimmage, and enjoyed success in the two-minute period as well. One reason for this may be the state of the defensive line, which is missing two starters and has had others miss practices of late. Thankfully, Jason Hatcher and DeMarcus Ware returned to practice today. Both were running first team, making up a starting defensive line of Ben Bass (LDE), Sean Lissemore (1-tech), Hatcher (3-tech) and Ware (RDE). More on Ware below.
I'm not going to spend a great deal of time recapping the action, since the entire affair is available online at the mothership, replete with commentary by the voice of the Cowboys himself, Brad Sham. Instead, I'll take this opportunity to offer a few thoughts, both about this afternoon's goings-on and about the first week of camp in general.
Today served largely as a practice for the vets, but was a live-action scrimmage for the bottom-of-the-roster guys. On several occasions today, Jason Garrett gathered the team together before moving on to a new phase of the practice. I'd bet the house that one of his messages was directed at the young guys, and pertained to the tremendous opportunity that lay before them in the next 90 minutes.
Several of the youngsters seized that opportunity. Wide receiver Eric Rogers was once again a standout, making several contested catches, including one beautiful grab in the corner of the end zone (sadly, it was ruled dead, as the referees judged that the QB was sacked before he threw the ball). Rogers has been impressive thus far; he never lets the ball get into his body, grabbing everything with his big, soft hands. And his concentration is amazing; time and agin, he had corralled the ball with a defender (or two) draped on him. With every catch, he pushes Cole Beasley off the roster.
Another standout today was backup quarterback Alex Tanney. Although he wasn't afforded a lot of protection, he still made some pretty plays. He has a live arm, but his most impressive quality is his feet: he moves lightly but deftly in the pocket. At one point in the scrimmage, the mothership's Nick Eatman tweeted that Tanny reminded him of Romo, circa 2003. This was indeed exactly what I had been thinking before I read Eatman's take. I don't think Tanney will make the 53, but he would be a terrific practice squad candidate as a long-term developmental guy.
Although these and other young'uns played well, the second and third units struggled a bit during the live action. Neither offensive unit managed to move the ball particularly well. A Nick Stephens-led drive ended in a punt; this was followed by a three-and-out with Alex Tanney at the helm. That said, my impression is that the third team offenses operate much more smoothly than they have in the recent past. We will have to wait for the preseason games before rendering final judgement, but both of these quarterbacks seem better equipped than Stephen McGee's third team units in recent years.
The team continues to work hard to increase their tempo in and out of the huddle. During the full team periods as well as the scrimmage, offensive staffers used large numbered cards (numbered "11" or "12," for instance) to signal the personnel group and, as has been the case throughout camp, the quarterback would get a number from Bill Callahan that corresponded to a number on his wristband, jog to the huddle and quickly call the play. Thus far, everything has been much more efficient; there is usually double-digit seconds still on the 40-second clock when the ball is snapped.
Part of the credit for this must go to Travis Frederick, who has been calling for the huddle after every play (as the QB get the play from Callahan) and, more importantly has been making the line calls. In recent years, you have seen Romo not only calling out audibles but also protections. With Frederick aboard, Romo's pre-snap work has been reduced significantly and, as a result, the team operates much more efficiently between plays.
After Saturday's practice, I spoke at length with a friend of mine, who I will henceforth refer to as Knowledgeable Cowboys Fan. I asked KCF what had been the most pleasant surprise of camp for him thus far. He responded that it was the absence of any drop-off in DeMarcus Ware's game. Indeed, Ware has shown himself to be a physical marvel throughout camp, displaying a startling combination of speed and power. In this afternoon;'s scrimmage, he had been contained by Tyron Smith, but then exploded for sacks on back-to-back plays. The dude's still got it.
And finally: I spent the day watching practice with BTB member Billy McCool, a Dallas native now living in Los Angeles. We got in touch via twitter and he decided to come up and have breakfast before we jetted over to the field early, to ensure good viewing positions on what was sure to be a crowded day. We had never met before, so an all-day hangout could have been a dicey proposition; as it turns out, he's a great, funny guy, and a very knowledgeable Cowboys fan. Spending the day talking about and watching football with another like-minded fan was a real joy, and I was reminded of how awesome BTB is, and appreciative that Dave has provided a wee little corner of the INterwebs for us, a safe haven for intelligent fans, away from the slings and arrows of media blowhards and unexamined narratives.
Its a real pleasure to write for all of you; I'll be back Monday with more two-a-day coverage of the doings in Oxnard.