Posted: 12:18 a.m. Thursday, Aug. 8, 2013
Practice today followed largely the same structure as it did yesterday. In brief:
Most of the team came out around 3:30 PT for the blue practice, followed by position drills and some helmetless 11-on-11 work in which the team previewed some of the plays they were going to run later in the day. By the time the team got done stretching, it was 4:40 before the helmets came on for positional drills, and it was 5:00 before the Cowboys engaged in full team drills. You can find video of the team drills on DallasCowboys.com. At 5:30, the team broke for special teams work, which concluded about 20 minutes later, after which the team conducted a final helmetless walkthrough in preparation for the game on Friday.
The Cowboys will have one final walkthrough tomorrow morning before they depart for Oakland, where they'll play the Raiders on Friday night.
Because you can review the team drills on the mothership, I won't write about them today, instead focusing on a couple of general observations from camp.
The defense today had an extra-long, in-depth teaching session focused on stopping edge runs and what looked like some read option plays. And it really was a teaching session: while the work centered around the defensive line and the gap assignments, the entire defense was gathered around as Monte Kiffin, Rod Marinelli and Matt Eberflus patiently walked the entire team through the defensive concepts in ultra slow motion.
Marinelli positioned his players in various formations and pointed out minute details of hand placement, positioning and gap control using his players as demonstration material.
At the end of the session, Kiffin took a handoff and ran through the D-line himself, albeit at 1/4 speed.
In the meantime, the receivers and tight ends engaged in routine passing drills. The O-linemen practiced getting off the snap, and were joined by the running backs who practiced their blitz pickups and blocking along with the linemen.
Rabblerousr recently defined this year's top three defensive priorities for the Cowboys as follows:
1. Generate turnovers
2. Generate turnovers
3. Generate turnovers
And the Cowboys practiced just that today.
The defensive backs started out with drills that had them practicing taking correct angles and closing in on the ball carrier. They followed that up with interception drills during which Jason Garrett was throwing the ball.
Similarly, the linebackers were running drills that had them picking off passes.
But where you would think the defensive line would be practicing batting down passes or something to that effect, they did something completely different: Leon Lett and Rod Marinelli were drilling them on not jumping offsides. For this, Lett lined up as the center across from the defensive line and snapped the ball, whereupon the linemen would jump out of their stance. But Lett would also twitch his leg or raise his arm suddenly, and the first couple of times he did this, the linemen all jumped immediately, and it took a couple of reps for the linemen to focus exclusively on the ball and not on any movement by Lett.
The 11-on-11 sessions are conducted against simulated game situations, with specific down-and-distance scenarios. And the plays are also run against a live play clock.
I watched the pay clock for a large part of the sessions today, and the offense routinely broke the huddle with 20+ seconds on clock, and snapped the ball with 10+ seconds left. Not always, but often enough so that you'll notice the difference.
Note that this is was not a no-huddle offense, but it is fast anyway.
What to watch for against Oakland:
Look for screens and endarounds. The Cowboys have been practicing these repeatedly this week, they should show up in the game.
Watch out for runs to the right. We've taken runs to the left for granted, with Smith and Leary looking good as run blockers. The Cowboys broke a couple of nice runs to the right today.
Overall, watch the Cowboys try to establish the run early, and then mix in a coupe of playaction plays. I know, it's been a while since playaction has been a successful staple of the offense, but a lot of things are going to change this year, this is one of them.
If the camera allows for it, look closely at the kick return team and how they deploy the wedge in the middle. The Cowboys will have two guys holding hands in the middle (the official wedge), probably Sean Lissemore and Nick Hayden, and they may be joined on the edge by Dante Rosario and Kyle Wilber in what KD Drummond called a "Faux Wedge." At the very least, it's an interesting wrinkle.