Some thoughts from the film room in Oxnard:
* Andre Holmes is finally playing like a 6-5 receiver in the way that he is extending for the ball in the air. Holmes up until two days ago was trying to body catch or cradle passes instead of using his height to his advantage. Smaller defenders were able to get their hands inside his to knock away passes that he should have come down with. His best play of the practice was when he drove down the middle of the field, setting up a “Hail Mary” pass. Holmes was in a cluster of defenders the closest being safety Justin Taplin-Ross who was unable to react to Holmes as he went vertical to reach the ball for the score.
Holmes has put together some better practices but there still are things he does route-wise that he will need to clean up if he is going to take that third receiver job.
* Cornerback Morris Claiborne was back in the lineup after some extended time off for a knee injury he suffered last week. His movement and technique looked good, but where he had his trouble - and this is something that he is going to have to learn - is how to play with his eyes. Claiborne has got to do a better job of seeing what is happening to him. This will just come from experience. As a cornerback you can peek at the quarterback while the receivers run their routes. Claiborne was in off coverage and completely froze on the route looking in the backfield, while Andre Holmes worked a slant on him, then he tried to react, but it was way too late. In this league, playing with your eyes at corner is just as important as playing press coverage.
* Guard Mackenzy Bernadeau is a hard man to move one on one when defensive linemen are playing against him. I observed six straight plays where Marcus Spears tried to push Bernadeau back into the backfield on a pass rush, but never moved him two yards off the ball. Bernadeau is listed at 331 pounds, but is probably more in the 325 range now and is a load to deal with at the point of attack. In his limited time back on the practice field, I have yet to see him have to deal with a quick inside defender on his nose. The majority of his reps has been against the Spears and Josh Brents of the world, power, bull-rushers.
In the film review of Bernadeau this spring, I did study him in a pre season game against the Giants’ Justin Tuck, who was only able to get pressure on the quarterback on one play. I’ll also say that Bernadeau was able to get outside on a screen to DeMarco Murray and secure Sean Lee out of the play, which was pretty impressive for a big man.
* I hope I am not putting the cart before the horse here, but what I have seen in the camp from safeties Gerald Sensabaugh, Barry Church and even Danny McCray coverage-wise has been encouraging. For years covering this team, I have screamed for a safety that could play with range on the back end and we have seen a parade of guys to try.
Throughout a practice you observe signs that maybe this group can do some of those things that are necessary to keep the ball from going down the field: Sensabaugh lining up on the outside and carrying a receiver up the field on the “9” route, staying in inside position, not reaching or grabbing to have to keep up. Barry Church in the red zone working with Bruce Carter on combo coverage on Jason Witten in the end zone keeping perfect position to keep Romo from working the ball to Witten. Danny McCray playing in the middle of the field, reading the receiver crossing through his zone, reacting forward on a Stephen McGee pass to knock the ball away.
In these practices, you actually see safeties make plays which is a far cry from what we have seen in the last several years. Better athletic ability with range and finish, it’s something we need to see more.