Cowboys Blue White Scrimmage Includes FistiCuffs

Cowboys 2014 training camp

Cowboys 2014 training camp

On Sunday the Cowboys held their Blue White scrimmage at training camp in Oxnard. Most of it was team situational with no actual tackling but there was some live scrimmage toward the end.

The most exciting moment came when after WR Dez Bryant caught a pass in the middle of the field, safety JJ Wilcox delivered a not so team scrimmage pop which Dez took exception to. And then it was on. Punches were thrown but it all settled down quickly. Wilcox’s hit didn’t appear dirty to me in any way as it was a bang-bang friendly fire kind of play. Both players seemed to get over it after a couple plays.

Outstanding Offensive Performers:
As I have noted in a previous training camp blog, Dez Bryant really appears to be a man among boys during camp and he provided some highlights today. He caught a pass early in the scrimmage, slipped by Scandrick and raced for a long TD. There were good battles between Dez and CB Orlando Scandrick on several occasions with both having their moments of success. Dez could have a really big season in 2014.

I thought running back Joseph Randle ran the ball really well and broke off a few long runs. He hit the holes with excellent quickness and explosiveness. Randle is in a battle with Ryan Williams for a roster spot and I believe Randle helped himself today.

Tony Romo looked fine throwing the ball particularly on short routes. One deep pass looked like a wounded duck but it was actually completed to Terrance Williams who made a nice adjustment to make the catch. Romo was under pressure on that pass. Later in a 2 minute drill situation, Romo and Dez weren’t on the same page (sound familiar?) which resulted in a nice interception by Scandrick to end the drive.

Romo and Dez discussed the play on the sideline as fans have seen this scenario before. It’s a bit concerning that a QB with that much experience still seems to get mixed up and throw it to the other team at a crucial moment of the game. Got to get this fixed Jason!

So how did Romo’s back look? The good news is he threw like the old Romo and the bad news is he threw like the old Romo. That’s just the way it goes with him.

TE Gavin Escobar caught a TD pass early in the scrimmage. I look for the Dallas offense to include Escobar much more this season. I think he will fit into Linehan’s offensive scheme nicely.

Rookie WR Devin Street caught a short pass on the sideline and followed a nice block by Dwayne Harris for a long gain that almost scored.

6-4 undrafted rookie WR Chris Boyd made a nice catch on a deep pass by Vaughn. On the play rookie CB Terrance Mitchell was in good position but Boyd’s height was definitely an advantage. During the scrimmage, Mitchell was often in good position but couldn’t quite make the play. More development needed for the young corner.

The starting offensive line was strong in pass protection while the 2nd team offensive line struggled a bit allowing a couple sacks on Weeden.

Outstanding Defensive Performers:
LB DeVonte Holloman made a really nice pass break up from the middle linebacker spot. He made a TD saving deflection near the endzone 50 yards down the field. It’s Holloman’s experience as a safety in college that allows him to get nice depth in the middle of the field and it is why I think he should play the middle LB position.

DE Martez Wilson made a nice sack and strip of the ball on Weeden. Wilson is an experienced player trying to make the roster. Shows exceptional ability to pass rush.

DB Scandrick had the tough assignment of covering Dez and he actually had a decent day. Came up with a good INT mentioned earlier.

Undrafted rookie safety Ryan Smith had a sack on a blitz. Smith shows some real natural ability to blitz the QB as he fights to earn a roster spot.

Rookie safety Ahmad Dixon came up with a fumble recovery after a pass completion.

Rookie LB Anthony Hitchens was noticeably often around the ball and displayed good instincts on pass plays.

FINAL TAKE:
Overall it reminded me of a typical Cowboys game. The offense hit some big plays, the defense allowed big plays and occasionally came up with a stop while in the end, Romo made a bad play in crunch time.

The Cowboys will travel to San Diego on Wednesday for a preseason game Thursday night with the Chargers.

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One Week in Oxnard: What We Have Learned So Far.

Training Camp Oxnard

Training Camp Oxnard

The Dallas Cowboys finish one week of camp and will conduct a blue white scrimmage on Sunday. Their first preseason game will be with the Chargers next Thursday. A look at what we are learning about this team so far.

The Offensive Line May be Very Good:
To start on a positive note, it appears the Cowboys will have an offensive line that is one of the better ones in the NFL. Either that or our defensive line really stinks. Or perhaps both?

Anyway, guess that is what having three first round picks on the line will do for you. The Rookie guard Zack Martin has been reported more than holding his own with former all pro DT Henry Melton. In fact Martin has been so dominant I look for the rookie guard to tell the veteran defensive lineman to carry his shoulder pads off the field instead of the other way around.

Defensive Line Appears Weak as Dish Water:
The defensive line was the biggest need coming into the season and so far, no one needs to expect it to be a lot better. They are getting their collective butts kicked in blocking drills. Wish I had better news here. We can only hope that practicing against the offensive line causes them to improve quickly.

Tyron Smith a Cowboy for life
The young talented left tackle is locked in on a long term deal with Dallas. Signing a 10 year contract this week worth…let’s just say a lot.

Trading up in the Draft is a bad idea:
The Cowboys invested 2nd and 3rd round picks in rookie DE DeMarcus Lawrence only to see him go out with an ankle injury in camp. He is expected to miss about 10 weeks reminding us that trading up in the draft is generally not a good move.

They sure could use that 3rd round pick now to help in other areas. And before accusing me of indulging in Monday morning GM, I said so right after the draft. With Jerry it’s not Monday morning GM anyway, it’s more like “GM-ing for Dummies.”

Romo is Ready to go….Sort of:
All indications are Romo is better from back surgery but he does sit out of practice at times. Should we be a little concerned? With Weeden as their backup, hell yes!

The Owner is Still Cray Cray:
Like your crazy uncle after a few drinks, Jerry parked in front of the cameras and talked about an improved defense and affirmed a Cowboys playoff birth this year. Where is Jim Mora when you need him? “Playoffs? Playoffs? You want to talk about playoffs??”

Matt Johnson is indeed “Ham-i-capped”
Safety Matt Johnson went out with….wait for it…yep, a hamstring pull. This was quite predictable but it still seems unbelievable. His ham is just not meant to play NFL football.

Mo is fragile:
CB Mo Claiborne is one guy that needs to step up and so far in camp he has given a very good effort but at the end of the week he complained of a sore knee. Not looking that serious yet, but it must make fans say “here we go again”. Will Mo stay healthy enough to finally justify that high price they paid for him in the 2012 draft? Did I mention the pitfalls of trading up already?

Dez a Man among Boys:
Dez has dominated pass coverage drills and seems to be catching everything. Expect a big year from Dez this season.

Rookie CB acting like a rookie:
Rookie CB Terrance Mitchell has appeared a little too aggressive at practice on more than one occasion even resulting in an injury for WR Dwayne Harris. Mitchell seems to crank it up when players are told to tone it down a bit at practice and I fear he will be one of those who tones it down when it is time to crank it up, like a game for example.

May have found a Diamond in the Rough:
This team needs some help on the defensive line and may have found it in undrafted Arizona State DT Davon Coleman. His name has come up often in twitter coverage of camp practices as a guy making plays and difficult to block. Coleman is providing hope in an area of need.

FINAL:
No surprise that in many ways Dallas is picking up where it all ended last season. An offense with explosive weapons and the ability to score but a defense that needs a lot of improvement with the first preseason game less than a week away. Some injuries in key spots are making it even more challenging to get the defense up to speed.

Other than in Jerry’s own mind, the playoffs seem very distant. And on that note, some things never change.

Cowboys Training Camp Notes After 2 Days

Cowboys 2014 training camp

Cowboys 2014 training camp

The Cowboys training camp started in Oxnard, California Friday. They come in with many questions on the defensive side as they try to improve on a rough season last year.

Notes from the first two days of camp:

Not Active:
Anthony Spencer: As expected, DE Spencer went on the PUP list and probably will not be playing anytime real soon.
Ronald Leary: Went on the PUP list after straining a hamstring but is expected to return next week. Leary hurt his hamstring back in Dallas before camp actually. It occurred after head coach Jason Garrett wisely cancelled the condition test because he felt it was not worth the risk. But players decided they needed it and conducted it anyway. It brings up the question, “who is in charge of this team?” We have seen these kind of things before under Garrett’s leadership or lack of it. Last year when trailing by 32 points to the Saints, Garrett basically admitted that he should have removed Romo from the game but Romo insisted on staying in the game.
Brandon Carr: The high dollar corner has been a no show at camp so far as he attends to an unspecified personal matter. No reason for concern here yet, but stay tuned.

LBs:
Rolando McClain: The Cowboys recent signee and possible replacement for Sean Lee at middle LB, was in court Friday for some misdemeanor charges. He was sentenced to 18 days in jail but that is being appealed. McClain participated in practices Saturday. Keep expectations low here but he may help them at some point during the season. I’m not yet convinced this guy is serious about turning over a new leaf in his life. We will see.

Bruce Carter has looked much more comfortable and confident at LB in camp than he did last year by all accounts. He needs to step it up this season and perhaps he will.

The Cowboys have used several different combinations at LB early in camp. I look for that to continue as they try to figure out the best three to put on the field.

Defensive Line:
Without Hatcher or Ware, the defensive line is younger and less experienced than before. Coach Marinelli begins the process of molding them into a unit. Some how it needs to play better this season.

So far Henry Melton has looked like he is ready to play after a knee injury last season. His movement in drills has been very good. That’s a good thing to see early in camp. Melton will play a critical role as the three technique on the defensive line.

Indications are All Pro tackle Tyron Smith has had no trouble blocking the 2nd round pick Demarcus Lawrence or Jeremy Mincey. Which brings up the question, is Smith that good or is this defensive line just not that good?

On one hand I think the Cowboys offensive line will be one of the better ones in the NFL this season on the other hand, I’m not convinced their defensive line is very good yet. A lot of work to be done on that defensive front in camp.

Secondary:
If there is one area that needs to show improvement other than the defensive line, it would be the secondary.
Mo Claiborne: Mo, an early pick a couple years ago, has a lot to prove and early word is he is healthy and playing tough so far in camp.

On Saturday he was mixin’ it up some with 2nd year WR Terrance Williams. Their battles were competitive and they continued after the whistles so to speak. It’s a good sign to see Claiborne getting after it this early. He personally needs a good season and the team needs it from him. Importantly, Mo seems to get it that he must deliver this season and he is practicing with a sense of urgency.

JJ Wilcox: Wilcox begins his 2nd year after a rookie season that would be best described as a “learning curve”. So far indications are he weighs less and is moving around noticeably quicker. Also seems to know where he should be in coverage which hasn’t always been the case. Wilcox is yet another guy who needs a good season. Looks like he is off to a good start and that is encouraging.

Offense:
QB Tony Romo was very limited in practice Friday as he returns from back surgery. He did make throws on Saturday and word is he looked fine. Romo appears ready to go but they are bringing him along in camp at a methodical pace.

In drills, the Cowboys offensive line has been dominant for the most part. As mentioned earlier, Smith has been a human wall and the top pick rookie Zack Martin is making a successful move from tackle to guard. He has moved his feet well in drills and looks comfortable in pass protection.

The second year center Travis Frederick has been unbeatable in drills. It would appear the Cowboys offensive line will be their strength in 2014.

RB Lance Dunbar missed a large part of last season with an injury but in RB position drills, he was moving quite well. No signs that he has an injury as he navigated the rope drills smoothly and with quickness. I look for Dunbar to play a big part in the offensive scheme this season as a runner and particularly as a receiver out of the back field.

WR Dewayne Harris has been noticed in camp making catches and doing what my man Harris always does, make plays. He has even been running at times with the first offense. It would be good if they involved Harris more in the offense in 2014. A much under used talent last year IMO.

SUMMARY:
The Cowboys offensive line looks ready to go and will be a solid group in 2014.
The defensive line is young and unfamiliar with each other. A lot of work to do to get this group ready to play better this season. Good to see Melton moving well.
The defensive secondary looks improved already with Wilcox at safety and Mo getting after it at practice. They do need Carr to get back in camp right away.
The LB situation is totally up in the air at this point with many questions to be answered in the coming weeks. McClain showed up Saturday and appears ready to compete. Carter looks improved.
Romo appears right on pace in his recovery to be ready to go. Dunbar also appears ready too.

2013 Dallas Cowboys Blue/White Scrimmage

ware
On Sunday, just seven days before playing Miami in the Hall of Fame Game, the Cowboys conducted their Blue/White scrimmage in Oxnard. A recap of the scrimmage.

Non participants:
TE James Hanna, WR Cole Beasley and WR Dez Bryant. Not serious injuries but they sat out to get ready for the preseason games.

OFFENSE:
Things started off with a bang for the Cowboys first offense as Romo hit Witten for a TD on the first play of red zone plays. Romo effectively faked a run to the right then hit Witten cutting across the field from right to left. I expect to see Witten, and the other TEs too, featured more in the redzone. The Cowboys are clearly going to more two TE sets.

Orton was QB of the second group against the 2nd defense as they had a nice gain on a screen pass to Dunbar. It is clear that Jason plans to feature Dunbar in the offense with passes out of the backfield. Dunbar displays nice quickness and speed which will make him difficult to tackle in the open field.

Nick Stephens and Alex Tanney shared time at QB with the 3rd offense and they both struggled to have enough time to pass as the 3rd offensive line was turning people loose all over the place. Tanney did manage to hit WR Jared Green on an out pattern. Last season the Cowboys only kept Romo and Orton at QB so it will be interesting to watch Stephens and Tanney battle for a possible spot on the roster. They should both see lots of action in preseason games.

Rookies on offense:
First round pick center Travis Frederick ran with the first string offense and his shot gun snaps were solid to Romo. There has been talk of Frederick playing guard but it appears he will start at center. Frederick looked pretty solid in the scrimmage over all.

Rookie WR Terrance Williams caught a slant from Romo during the scrimmage. Williams is looking better each practice, but I would say he is behind Harris in the 3rd spot.

RB Joseph Randle had a really nice run on a draw play in the 2 minute drills. His ability to stop and cut were making tacklers look silly. The refs ruled Randle down short of the goal line but I’m not so sure any defenders tackled him on that play. Randle got off to a slow start in OTAs with a thumb injury so at this point I think he is the 3rd RB behind Murray and Dunbar.

With James Hanna out with an injury, rookie Escobar ran with the first offense but was quiet today. He struggled to block during run plays. He still has ways to go.

DEFENSE:
Through out camp talk was that Ware couldn’t be blocked and I saw some of that tendency in the scrimmage. It appears that new defensive line coach Rod Marinelli is getting Ware to play like a beast. I look for ware to have a big season.

LB Bruce Carter was all over the field on run and pass plays as he appears to be very at home in the new 4-3 defense. Carter could really have a nice season this year.

During the two minute offense, CB Brandon Carr made a nice play on the sideline as he kept Harris from making a catch. Carr’s size and strength will serve him well in the Tampa 2 coverage.

The Cowboys defensive line often seem to get the best of the offensive line in this early measure of development. QBs were often hurried and sacked as officials were quick to blow the whistle for sacks.

Rookie defenders:
CB B.W. Webb covered the slot WR with the 2nd defense and managed an interception late in the scrimmage.

Rookie safety JJ Wlicox played with the 2nd defense and looked solid for a rookie. It appears Wilcox is a starter on the punt team.

Rookie LB Devonte Holloman did a nice job on a blitz pressuring the QB into a hurried throw.

Final Take:
I came away feeling better about the Cowboys moving to a 4-3 defense. The offensive line still concerns me a great deal. It was a big weakness last season, I feared enough hadn’t been done in the off season to improve it, and after watching the scrimmage I’m still concerned.

I was impressed with Dunbar’s ability to catch out of the backfield and I think the Cowboys LBs will be a real strength of the team.

Cowboys Conducted Blue/White Scrimmage Sunday

Cowboys scrimmage in Oxnard Sunday.

After the first week of preseason camp, the Cowboys held a scrimmage in Oxnard Sunday to mostly allow an opportunity for the young guys to show they can make plays in game like situations. Some guys took advantage of the situation and helped their stock and some guys didn’t.

Let’s look at who the winners and losers were today:

Stock Rising:

WR Tim Benford– This is the undrafted guy that blew by Claiborne in his first day of camp which caused me to ask, who? If you don’t know his name yet, you just might soon because Benford had himself a mighty good scrimmage. He caught a couple TD passes and made a real nice catch on the sideline late in the scrimmage too. Benford is getting noticed.

WR Dwayne Harris– Having a nice camp and performed well in the scrimmage Sunday. Harris is making a pretty good case for the 3rd WR spot on the team.

DE Tyrone Crawford– Was too much to handle for the 2nd string O line for sure. Looks like the rookie Crawford will help the defensive line this year.

OLB Kyle Wiber– Rookie Wilber constantly in the backfield and harassing QBs on Sunday. Think the Cowboys found a good one here.

DE Clifton Geathers- The 2nd year 6-7 giant was hard to ignore in the scrimmage. I think Geathers will be tough to keep out of the line up this season. He looks unblockable at times.

QB Rudy Carpenter– The 4th string QB appeared more effective at moving the offense than McGee late in the scrimmage.

WR Cole Beasley– Interesting week for the little guy out of SMU. Left the team Friday then returns today in time for the scrimmage. Made plays again and did a nice job handling punt return duties. Glad to see Beasley back in camp.

Stock Dropping:

WR Andre Holmes- This is the WR Jerry felt good about coming into the season. He got off to a slow start after failing a conditioning test and just looked sluggish in the scrimmage. He failed to impress Sunday with his opportunities.

CB Akwasi Owusu-Ansah– AOA was drafted by the Cowboys a couple of years ago, let go after trying to make a safety of him, and then brought back as a CB. It’s simply time to move on from this project. Not impressive in the scrimmage as he allowed two TDs to undrafted rookies.

QB Stephen McGee– The Cowboys 3rd QB just couldn’t get the team moving when given the chance. He made some good throws and some bad ones too. He needs to impress in camp but it’s not happening yet.

The scrimmage was conducted at a fast pace and the Cowboys responded quite well to it. Overall impression was that the defensive line was too much for the O line most of the day as the injuries up front are taking their toll.

3 Days Into Camp: Cowboys Line Up Becoming Any More Clear?

Cowboys in preseason camp looking for answers.

On July 29, just before the Cowboys started preseason camp in Oxnard, I blogged about 4 areas that must be addressed in the next few weeks BLOG 4 Questions.  These would represent the positions that are the most up for grabs on the team. Now that we are three days into camp, let’s have an updated look at how things are shaking down so far.

1. CB opposite Carr:

Claiborne is expected to start but he got off to a slow start with his offseason wrist surgery. So far in camp he has had some tough days. He would appear to be young and inexperienced which should be expected. Claiborne is getting burnt more often than toast and might be able to get a toaster endorsement at this pace.  But he has made plays on the ball at times which is encouraging.

My TAKE: Claiborne is not ready for the NY Giants WRs yet but there is still time for him to develop. I still think he will be ready to start at corner with Carr but he isn’t there just yet. Mike Jenkins shoulder status isn’t really clear yet so we don’t know if he would be available.

2. 3rd WR spot:

So far in camp, Dwayne Harris has looked like a guy that will have to be considered for this spot. Beasley continues to impress also and Ogletree has been kind of quiet so far in camp. Holmes, a favorite of owner Jerry Jones, failed his conditioning test which really gets him off to a slow start as players aren’t allowed to practice with the team untill they pass it. Holmes managed to pass it on Wednesday.

My Take: Ogletree is still in the lead here but Harris is closing the gap and that little guy out of SMU, Beasley, is definitely still in the picture. Holmes has fallen behind a great deal and has a lot of ground to make up.

3.  Guard:

This spot for Dallas is really in trouble. Early in camp Nagy suffered a high ankle sprain and will likely be out 2-4 weeks. He was a definite contender. Then Livings, who was expected to start, hurt his knee although it isn’t clear how serious yet. Bernadeau is still out after hip surgery. This opens the door farther for undrafted guard Leary who will get plenty of reps. Arkin is also going to have to be considered as well with all the injured linemen.

MY Take: This guard position is becoming even a bigger hot mess. It is as up in the air as ever and may come down to who is healthy enough to play. Got to consider signing a veteran to come in and help at this point.

4.  Safety opposite Sensabaugh:

Pool was signed and brought in from the Jets expected to start but he failed his conditioning test which has him off to a slow start. Meanwhile, Barry Church has really stepped up his game and gotten noticed during practice.  Church has taken advantage of the opportunity so far in camp. Rookie Matt Johnson was cleared to practice now with his hamstring but I just haven’t heard much from him thus far.

My Take: Barry Church is taking ownership of this spot early in camp and it will be difficult to keep him out of the line up as a starter. Sounds like he has really improved his game this year. Pool is still in the hunt however, showing up not in shape isn’t going to impress anyone.

Still a lot of camp to go before the first game Sept. 5th but already we have early leaders in these areas and we have guys pulling up the rear. Stay in touch because it can change rather quickly.

Cowboys Camp Starts Monday: Four Questions That Must Get Answered

Jason Garrett

The Dallas Cowboys are headed to Oxnard, Ca. for their preseason camp that gets under way on Monday July 30. Countdown to their first game against the Super Bowl champ Giants on Sept. 5 will begin on that day as well. About a month left to put this 2012 version of the Cowboys together which means there a few questions that must be answered soon. Let’s take a look at the main areas the Cowboy coaches will be focused.

1. Starting CB opposite Brandon Carr?

No doubt about it, first round pick Morris Claiborne is expected to step up and play the corner opposite of Brandon Carr who they picked up in free agency. However Claiborne is a rookie and will need to learn the defense quickly while developing his cover skills up to an NFL level too.  The talented CB will be a fine corner in the NFL but what if he needs more time to develop?

Can’t count on Mike Jenkins starting at corner as he went to the PUP list after surgery on his shoulder in the offseason. There are other young inexperienced guys who have impressed early but without question, Dallas coaches are expecting Claiborne to secure that spot by opening day. No one wants to think about a “plan B” yet.

2. Who will be at WR along with Dez Bryant and Miles Austin?

This spot is Ogletree’s to lose but the experienced and yet not so impressive WR is facing good competition from young talented players capable of wrestling that 3rd spot away from him. Undrafted Cole Beasley, out of SMU, is one guy is playing with confidence and a great deal of determination to prove he belongs in the NFL. Each practice he makes plays and impresses coaches.

Could Beasley be the guy that steps in to play with Dez and Austin opening day? It’s one of the more interesting stories and battles of any NFL preseason camps. Keep an eye on this one. It can change quickly as there are other WR prospects capable of getting into the picture too.

3. Who will be at guard with Livings?

When the Cowboys brought in guard Nate Livings, an experienced guard from the Bengals, it would appear he is expected to be a starter. But the other guard position is far from decided. Mackenzy Bernadeau was brought in from the Panthers and it appeared he was a leading contender but he is recovering from hip surgery in the offseason and may not be able to play in time for the first game.

The Cowboys have David Arkin and Bill Nagy who were drafted last year to compete for the spot. Arkin proved to not be ready for the NFL last year and unless he has improved a lot, may not be the best option.  Nagy showed promise but was injured last year. It is looking like this guard spot could be a real weak spot for the team and it is not a good thing to have defenders getting turned loose in the middle to take shots at Romo.

Ronald Leary? Leary is an undrafted rookie guard that will get a serious look at this spot. He appears to have knee issues behind him and has moved fine during OTAs earlier. Still, he is a rookie and may not be ready to start just yet. The uncertainty of this guard spot is the kind of thing that could keep head coach Jason Garrett up at night not to mention QB Tony Romo.

4. Who will be at safety opposite Sensabaugh?

Gerald Sensabaugh returns at safety but the other spot is not so secure at all. Brodney Pool was brought in from the Jets to fill the spot. While Pool does come in with some familiarity of Ryan’s defense, he does not have this position locked up by any means. Backup safety Barry Church displayed talent at safety last season and could possibly win the starting spot.

Rookie Matt Johnson was drafted by Dallas to compete at safety but he missed OTAs while finishing school then developed a hamstring injury which could get him off to a slow start in the preseason camp. It remains to be seen when he will be cleared to be in the mix to compete but with the injury causing a slow start, it seems likely he can be ruled out as the starter.

Safety has not been a solid area for the Cowboys in the past several years and it needs to improve if they hope to have a much improved secondary this season. Can Pool help solidify the deep part of the secondary or will Church get his opportunity to step in and shine?

There you have it. Four questions that must be addressed in the preseason in order to get ready for the Giants and the start of the season.

8/2/12 Update to Camp progress