It was a bit of luck that I happened to have the day off from work on the day the Dallas Cowboys opened the practice in AT&T; Stadium to the public. I had never been to the stadium in Arlington (I never made it to Texas Stadium, either), so not only was this a great chance to get my first ever live look at my favorite team, it was actually a bit of a bucket list item for me. So although I am very glad to share what I saw with all of you, I must admit, this trip was really for me.
And I am so very glad I went. First, the venue formerly known as Cowboys Stadium is a truly remarkable edifice that is well worth the over two hour drive I have to make to get there. And there is just something about actually seeing all the players and coaches I follow so intently with my own eyes. Oh, and did I mention that the Cheerleaders gave a performance, too? And you know something? They are really good at the dancing stuff. Until you really watch them, you don't realize just how athletic they are, besides their other obvious attributes.
But enough of that. I got into the stadium, settled into a seat right on the 50 yard line, and soaked up as much as I could of the whole experience. Here are a variety of impressions I had.
- First of all, when the Cowboys practice, they practice. Much of the time the different units are doing several things at once. Nobody is ever still for more than a couple of minutes except for when they are waiting in line for their turn at what is coming up. Lots of intensity.
- Dan Bailey and Chris Jones were the first guys out on the field. And the first non-kicker to set foot on the turf was Danny Coale. He was shagging punts and stuff. It is a hard road for him to make the team this year, but you cannot say he is not doing everything he can.
- This was a very special teams heavy practice. They started with that, and did a lot of other ST drills later. On kickoffs, the primary return alignment had Dwayne Harris as the main returner, with Anthony Armstrong as the up man who would call to him whether to take a knee or bring it out. While they worked on kickoff returns and coverage, the linemen were working along the sideline and the quarterbacks were in a corner doing some drills. Brandon Carr, Kyle Wilber, Danny McCray, Jeff Heath, and Orlando Scandrick (apparently recovered from his groin issue) were all players who featured prominently on the "first team" kickoff units, which may be worth noting next time you put together a 53 man roster.
- And while all this was going on, Sean Lee was in the opposite end of the field, getting one-on-one coaching from Monte Kiffin on pass coverage. The best linebacker on the team is not content with his own skills, which is part of why he is the best linebacker on the team.
- Whoever does the music likes AC/DC. And classic rock in general.
- Most of the work was at half or three-quarter speed, so it is hard to really tell who is doing well. It particularly made any real evaluation of the running game difficult, but I did think DeMarco Murray looked good, and Phillip Tanner is obviously ready to get some snaps against the Cincinnati Bengals.
- The starting line still had Jermey Parnell at RT and Doug Free at RG, with Mackenzy Bernadeau at LG. I don't know if that says anything about what the coaches think about David Arkin, but it at least leaves open the possibility that the team may roll with that if Ronald Leary is not ready week one. And, yes, that is a little unnerving.
- Even at half speed, there is a clear difference even to the casual observer between Tony Romo and everyone else at quarterback. Romo was very crisp in his initial reps. Kyle Orton threw a pick on his first pass.
- The initial work after the special teams session seemed to be focused on blitz reads and pickups.
- I may be reading way too much into what I could see with the naked eye and my handy binoculars, but Matt Johnson's body language did not look good while he was watching everyone else.
- The team split back into O and D drills after a stretching session, and Jason Garrett was working with the D on dropping into coverage. I think the "walkaround" role is sitting very well with him.
- DeMarcus Ware is scary even from 50 yards away. The rushmen were doing drills with the big blue dummies, which would fall over and then come back upright like those clowns kid punch. Except when Ware hit them, they slammed into the ground, and I swear they waited to make sure he was gone before they straightened back up. Seriously, his blows were noticeably louder to me, and sure looked more forceful than anyone else's.
- At one point, the cameras that were catching parts of the action for that huge, wonderful video screen focused on Roger Staubach, who was one of several former players in attendance. And the crowd burst into applause.
- The team ran some end of the game scenarios inside the red zone. In this portion, Miles Austin was the star, getting several receptions including a touchdown. Tanner showed some nice hands in the passing game, and Joseph Randle also got some work.
- After some more unit drills, the team went into what looked like a two minute drill with the ball at about their own 35. Romo marched them down until he had a 3rd down pass batted away by Ben Bass, and they had to settle for a field goal try.
- Bailey kicked six, I think, consecutive field goals, starting in close and ending with a 54 yarder right down the middle. He did miss one from about 45 earlier in the practice.
- The team then worked on punts. Jones had one that, from my vantage, looked to be higher than the bottom of the video screen. He is a pretty valuable resource in his own right for field position.
- Back into teams, they lined up at their own 25, and quit worrying about down and distance, just coming back to the line and running another play. I heard a coach, probably Bill Callahan or Wade Wilson, calling for "12" personnel, and I also heard them calling the number of the play to the quarterback.
- Dez Bryant's best play of the day came with James Hanna lined up outside of RT, Jason Witten in the slot, and Austin wide, with Bryant alone on the left. Romo went long to Bryant for what would have been a big gainer.
- Terrance Williams also got another chance at the play he and Romo misconnected on in the last game. This time, he went to the house with it, including a little Michael Irvin style pushoff just before the ball arrived.
- Alex Tanney is still in the 3rd QB role, and he does look comfortable. Nick Stephens came out and tried to make his own case, but threw a ball right into Danny McCray's chest. Didn't help either of them, since McCray didn't catch an easy interception.
- Gavin Escobar may have some gaps in his game, but he has very soft hands as a receiver. More than one nice grab, from more than one quarterback.
- Bryant had one drop that just went off his hands, but also had one play that looked like an automatic 8 to 10 yard gain whenever the team wants to run it. Just makes a quick slant into a void created by the receiver inside him carrying a man deep, and was all alone five yards from the line, with lots of room to work.
- I have to think Armstrong is right now sixth on the wide receiver depth chart, based on when he was in the lineup and the way he was catching balls. Just looks very comfortable. After him, Coale had a nice grab, but Tim Benford had at least one drop.
- From the viewpoint of the offense, end arounds and Sean Lee do not mix. He ate one up about five yards behind the line.
If all that seems a bit like trying to drink from a firehose, that is kind of the way it felt trying to absorb and jot down some notes on the practice. Given that it was in shorts and helmets, the session did not give much information on things like blocking and the run game, so the observations I had were tilted towards the passing game, where you can at least see routes develop.
I also got to meet a "rival" blogger, Mark Lane from The Landry Hat, who chatted with me for a few minutes about things. And thanks to him and KD giving shoutouts, I finally got over 500 followers on Twitter. At least for the moment.
Hope you enjoyed the report. I had a blast doing the research.
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