OXNARD, Calif. – The team has departed for San Diego, leaving me behind with one more practice to watch before the preseason opener. With one more day to wait before preseason football, here's a few last impressions I'm thinking about.
1) The more I study DeMarcus Lawrence, the more I believe he is going to have a huge year for this defense. I always thought he had the ability to rush, but the strength he has added in the offseason will allow him to accomplish things that he might not otherwise been able to from that standpoint. In this league, when you can convert speed to power as a rusher, you make it very difficult for blockers to handle you.
2) Byron Jones is doing a much better job of working against these tight ends when he is asked to play coverage. It is different to have to deal with receivers and their moves in route because that requires athletic ability and smarts. Jones is coming to the understand that when dealing with these tight ends, it's more about being physical but also putting yourself in a position to deny the ball. Covering Jason Witten each day has helped him greatly here.
3) It was good to see Tyler Patmon back on the practice field on Tuesday. Patmon has been dealing with a bit of a sore hip and hopefully his time off helped him recover. Up until the time of his injury, if you had asked me which of the corners had been playing the best, I would have said him. Patmon has always had the talent to play, but where he has made the most gains is in his strength. As an Offseason Award winner in the weight room you can physically see a change in his body and that has translated to his play on the field.
4) When the club returns to the practice field on Saturday, expect Darren McFadden to be on that field and ready to compete for this starting running back job. McFadden is in the final stages of his rehab program and will work hard before the game Thursday night and one more session on Friday before joining his teammates.
5) Rookie Gus Johnson is ready to do whatever he has to do Thursday night when the team faces the San Diego Chargers. In talking with him after practice on Tuesday, he wasn't so much worried about the physical side of the game in his preparation but more the mental one. Johnson knows that while on the field, the coaches will be evaluating him -- not on how he carries or catches the ball, but how he carries out his assignments without mental errors or breakdowns. From the practices I have observed, he has appeared just fine in this area. Johnson will split the workload with Tyler Clutts and Lache Seastrunk to get through this game.
6) It's only the first preseason game, but there are a couple of receivers that need to get on track to set themselves up down the road if they want a shot at making this team. George Farmer and Deontay Greenberry haven't had the types of practices in the first two weeks that I believed they were capable of. Their routes have been inconsistent and their finishing is not at all where it needs to be. Both will get plenty of opportunities against the Chargers and how well they fare could determine if there are real possibilities or are they just left behind. In my experience, this train waits for no one.
7) In my opinion, Barry Church is having his best camp in coverage than at any point in his career. He looks far more comfortable with his technique and the role the coaches are asking him to play. Even when they have asked him to go and cover out in space, he has managed to put himself in position to not only play the route but deny the ball. At this point, if the coaches determine that Byron Jones needs to play more safety, I don't feel that Church will be the one taken off the field.
8) Of the backup tackles not including Darrion Weems, R.J. Dill is the one that appears to have the most to work with at this point in the practices. Laurence Gibson in the future has a chance but a year on the practice squad would be an ideal avenue for him. John Wetzel has lined up at both guard and tackle with limited success. There have been snaps where Dill has been more consistent with his set and punch --which has allowed him better reps. With all that said, this scouting staff is likely looking at other rosters to see if there might be a more suitable candidate down the line.
9) My darkhorse guy to watch on the defensive side of the ball during this first game is linebacker Donnie Baggs. There comes a time in each practice where he pops on the film and finds himself in position to make a play on the ball. I could see him have the type of game where he is using his athletic ability -- running to the ball and finishing plays. It's just a hunch but I like my odds here.
10) Chris Whaley was starting to win more battles one-on-one, and it's a shame that in the process his season came to an end. You have to give credit to him for fighting back when many believed that he couldn't. Whaley might not have been part of the 53-man roster, but the hope was to bring him back on the practice squad and let him continue to work on his game and become a factor in the coming years.
11) It will be interesting to see, with the preseason games now starting, which defensive end is going to secure that final roster spot. My money has been on Ben Gardner, but there could very well be a challenge from Lavar Edwards or Ryan Russell. There have been snaps where Gardner has been solid but not always consistent. Edwards is a much better pass rusher and Russell now has shown the ability to play inside. There was a time where I wasn't so sure about Russell, but through these practices, it appears that these coaches might have hit on something and in these games we will find that out.
12) I once again have great honor of calling these preseason games with the great Brad Sham on 105.3 The Fan. It is always a pleasure to work with him, Kristi Scales and the wonderful Cowboys Radio Crew. I hope you have a chance to turn in and allows us to bring you the story from San Diego -- it should be a lot of fun.