Just some thoughts that I was able to pick up from OTA practice for the Cowboys this week:
- There has been some positive comments about the job that both running backs Lance Durbar and Phillip Tanner have been able to put together while DeMarco Murray and Joseph Randle tended to their injuries. Dunbar has shown plenty of quickness in the team period but today he was able to spin Sean Lee around in the one-on-one receiving drills with a quick outside move, then hard back inside which brought him some nice separation. In the same drill Tanner was able to adjust to the ball over his head and get himself turned around and up the field. Dunbar has looked the most explosive of the backs and has the experience of playing well on special teams but was also told to keep an eye on Tanner on teams even after he struggled at times last season. Coaches feel there are some things that he is doing better than others and that has given them some hope. Kendial Lawrence was the star of the rookie mini-camp but has yet to make a big splash. Where all these backs are going to have to get better is on the blitz pickup which is an area that I am sure that Gary Brown will be hammering on when they get into pads.
- When I was able to observe practice on Tuesday, it was very clear that Jason Witten was putting himself into a position to once again have another outstanding season. Witten has been used more as the inline "Y" as a blocker while James Hanna and Gavin Escobar have been used more as the move or wing. Witten has seen some time in the backfield when Callahan decides that he was to run his three wide packages. When a skilled player gets further along in his career, he becomes crafty because the skill level tends to fade. In Witten's case he has become crafty but the routes are run at a very high level. Where Witten really does a nice job is his ability to sell where he wants you to believe where he is going then break it into a different direction. He is a load to handle up the field and then when he leans on you getting your weight on the outside, then he cuts back. These safeties and linebackers have struggled in this camp trying to match him up the field. From what I have seen, there has been no slippage in his play.
- From my favorite section of players that you have never heard of but has caught my eye, defensive tackle Nick Hayden needs to be mentioned. Hayden wears Marcus Spears' old number of 96 but he has managed to get into the backfield more these last few days than Spears did in the last three seasons. Hayden has lined up as the one technique behind Robert Callaway and has been just as productive and at times even more. Hayden was a sixth round selection by the Panthers in 2008 and at 6-4, 292 he has played with some nice surge and power. I have seen him line up in the gap and at the snap, split Phil Costa and Nate Livings getting to Kyle Orton before he could get rid of the ball. In the Team period, he managed to beat another double team, this time between Darrion Weems and David Arkin. Hayden for the most part has done a nice job in the running game but there was one time where Costa and Livings were able to get their revenge and get a little push on him.
- On my twitter account (@BryanBroaddus) I had a follower ask me how receiver Anthony Armstrong was playing. My answer was that I saw him gain separation on a "Sutter-Go" but drop the ball. This afternoon I asked some front office guys that observed practice and they said he had a much better day both catching the ball but using his speed to get open. I was told that he was outstanding on a slant against Mo Claiborne taking his route hard inside and getting to the point before Claiborne could react. In the Blitz period, he ran a route underneath getting open to make a secure catch while the line picked up the blitz and in the one-on-one, he was able to drive B.W. Webb out of his pedal and complete a catch on the out route getting his feet down in bounds. For Armstrong, he did a much better job of getting noticed.
- When I studied linebacker DeVonte Holloman at South Carolina I didn't think he had all that much in the area of coverage skill and being a former strong safety and moving him to linebacker, I thought that's probably why they made that switch. What has surprised me is that these defensive coaches have been using Holloman in coverage. In the 7-on-7 period, Kiffin matched him up against Gavin Escobar and he did an outstanding job of carrying him across the field and keeping him from the ball. What made this usual is that Holloman usually plays as the Sam and that is the position that comes off the field when they add the nickel back on the field. In this case, Holloman was playing as the Mike and he remained on the field for this scheme. Holloman hasn't looked out of place or lost when they have put him on the field and along with Taylor Reed has been taking some nice reps. With Lee, Carter and Durant the likely starters, depth will be key and the fact that Holloman has been productive at Sam and Mike has been a good early sign.