Some thoughts and observations from the Cowboys first mini-camp practice of the week.
- I thought it was an outstanding day for the defensive tackles on this team during the practice as a group. Jay Ratliff and Jason Hatcher were disruptive throughout the day. Depending on the call, there were times where Hatcher lined up as the three and Ratliff as the one and he was a handful for Travis Frederick.
Hatcher had a couple of plays where he was explosive up the field, one time using a swim move going to his right beating the block of Ronald Leary and getting into the backfield for what would have been a tackle for loss. Ben Bass at the three beat blocks on-on-one and even got so far up the field, he was able to get his hand up to deflect a Kyle Orton pass. Nick Hayden did a nice job of keeping his shoulders square in the running game, not getting turned from the one and making the ball have to spill outside to his teammates.
Newly-signed Jeris Pendleton even got in the action as a one technique and appears that he will need to focus more on his quickness off the snap because it was very clear that his line mates did a much better job of getting off the rock. Pendleton looked a tick slow which caused him to get hooked on the play a couple of different times but overall as a group their film review will be positive.
- If it is possible for a player to continue to take his game to another level, Jason Witten is doing his best to make that happen. Witten has always been super competitive in the way he practices but with veteran safety Will Allen back at practice, Witten did his best to try and wear him out with his routes.
Allen prides himself as a physical cover man did his best to match Witten who is a nightmare to deal with because of how well he understands how to run his route that puts the defender off balance. He did a nice job of leaning on Allen to give himself room in the route, then later came back against Sean Lee on a crossing working his right arm into Lee which knocked him away, on the play, Lee could do nothing but watch as Witten then turning up the field for the catch.
What I have also noticed more about Witten and this offensive scheme that he is running more routes down the middle of the field in the red zone. Too many times in the past seasons when drives have stalled in the red zone, I often wondered to myself, why not try and get the ball to the best player on the field when it comes to playing in a tight area and making a contested catch. It appears that the coaches are trying now to get him more in the mix which a good thing. If Anthony Spencer has been the best defensive player in my eyes in these camps and no disrespect to Dez Bryant but Witten is that player on the offense for me.
- On Monday, I wrote that I had my eye on B.W. Webb to see if he could have a type of practice where it gave him a little momentum going into Oxnard. Today with Morris Claiborne out of the lineup, he showed up with some quality work when he was asked to work with the first defense in the nickel and with the twos when he worked inside on the slot.
One of Webb's best traits is his footwork and the quickness of his feet. On a route today against Anthony Armstrong who has the best vertical speed of all the receivers, he tried to take Webb down the field to gain separation but he was unable to do so.
Webb managed to keep inside position on the route all while playing the ball in the air. Later in the blitz period, Webb was in the slot on coverage off the defensive right side and Kiffin sent him on a blitz like he had done with Ronde Barber for so many seasons while in Tampa. Webb timed the blitz perfectly and was on Nick Stephens before he had a chance to set his feet. Jason Garrett after practice spoke how Webb does a little something each day to get noticed and for today, he was absolutely correct. I thought this was Webb's best practice since I had seen him work in that rookie camp several weeks ago.
- On my twitter account every time a player gets released from another club I am always asked if that player is a fit for this club. If I don't have a good thought one way or another, I usually ask someone in the organization that would be able to steer me in the right direction. I had a good idea that the Cowboys like Mike Kafka the quarterback that the Patriots released on Monday and there was most likely a shot of them putting in a claim on Tuesday which they did but he was awarded to Jacksonville because they had a worse record than the Cowboys. I see today that Baltimore released fullback Vonta Leach and he is free and clear to sign with any team. Would Leach be a good fit for this offense? My answer would be no from what I have seen scheme wise from Garrett and Callahan. This team is working one [embedded_ad] single back runs with a combination of tight ends playing in the roles of the "H" and "F". I have yet to see a run where they have used a true fullback like in years past. The majority of their runs have been zone calls or out of the pistol formation with a hand off to a back behind the quarterback. As the front office has continued to add tight ends to this roster, it was very clear that the fullback was a position that was going to get phased out and after watching Callahan calling plays in the running game, I believe that even more. Vonta Leach is a heck of a football player but in what this football team is trying to accomplish scheme wise, he is not a good fit and that is the bottom line.