OXNARD, Calif. – Saturday's practice was the closest we've come to real football, as the Cowboys made some live contact during their goal line period. That session takes precedence in my practice review, but I came away with several other big impressions from the afternoon.
Here are my 12 thoughts:
1) I continue to be impressed with the way that, despite his years in the league, Jason Witten continues to block at the point of attack. During the goal line period, Witten had a hand in each of the scoring plays for the first-team offense. His ability to grab the edge and physically hold his man in place, whether it was a single block or working on a double team, was outstanding.
2) Give Zack Martin and Darrion Weems credit for their ability to work together to create a hole off that right side on Gus Johnson's first touchdown run, when they were able to handle DeMarcus Lawrence and Tyrone Crawford. Later in the drive, Martin and Weems again had down blocks, with Witten off the edge on Ryan Russell and Jack Crawford that put Johnson one-on-one with J.J. Wilcox at the goal line. Wilcox was just a step late in finishing the play.
3) With Joseph Randle not taking part in the drill, coaches made the decision to go with Gus Johnson over Lache Seastrunk. Johnson has been the one that has been the most impressive in these first two weeks in his overall game. He has been able to finish runs and be a factor in pass protection.
4) The bright spot along the defensive line was the play of Davon Coleman. In a defensive line that is thought to play up the field and attack, Coleman was able to do just that. He was able to beat Mackenzy Bernadeau off the snap and grab Seastruck for a tackle for loss, then later come back and stack the point, forcing Seastrunk to bounce the ball to the complete opposite side. Coleman continues to stack good practices together.
5) When the offense went with three tight ends in their heavy package, it was guard/tackle John Wetzel that was the extra blocker and not Gavin Escobar or La'el Collins.
6) Byron Jones is being asked to play more and more down inside in coverage, which means he is having to deal with Jason Witten in space. It has been an education for the rookie in not only dealing with Witten's size but also the crafty route moves he has. Witten took Jones on a journey in 7-on-7 drills, when Witten crossed out of the slot behind Terrance Williams on the snap, leaving Jones spinning in his tracks to having to adjust. It's been a good education for the kid.
7) Tip of the cap to rookie corner Jason Wilson and the play he was able to make on Deontay Greenberry during 7-on-7. Greenberry went on a vertical route down the field with Wilson maintaining his position throughout. Once the ball arrived, Wilson was able to knock it away with perfect off hand technique.
8) Jeff Heath had an interception on Saturday that had to make these defensive coaches smile. Heath, playing off the opposite hash in zone coverage, read the route of Nick Harwell, who tried to sit down right in the middle of the field. Heath read the play all the way, with an explosive burst right in front of the pass from Brandon Weeden, and timed it perfectly to secure the turnover for the defense.
9) La'el Collins got his first extensive action with the first offense on Saturday and it was a bit of a mixed bag for him. It was good that he had the opportunity to work with Tyron Smith in the one-on-one pass rush drills in passing stunts. The bad came in a couple of snaps during the two-minute drills where he gave up pressures to Tyrone Crawford and Jeremy Mincey during the period.
10) The defensive line was able to generate some pressure with a nickel rush of DeMarcus Lawrence, Greg Hardy, Tyrone Crawford and Randy Gregory. Barring any other situations, this is the group that should be on the field was Hardy returns to action after his suspension. While he is out I expect we will see Mincey in his spot.
11) I noticed this more on Saturday than during any of the other practices: Scott Linehan had his receivers running routes where they were exchanging or crossing more with each other on the field. This is likely his way of handling the way teams are playing more man coverage against him -- thus he is working on ways to buy his receivers the necessary space on the field. There were several snaps where he was able to achieve that.
12) It absolutely killed Sean Lee not to be a part of that goal line scrimmage where the hitting was live. I give Matt Eberflus a great deal of credit for standing there and taking the earful from Lee and his desire to be part of the action. Lee did get some extensive work later in the team periods and continued to make good progress.