OXNARD, Calif. – With two weeks of camp nearly in the books, I thought I would take a look at the players that have caught my eye as we prepare for the Hall of Fame Game.
I am not going to include players like Dez Bryant, Jason Witten, Tony Romo and DeMarcus Ware because that is too easy but what I want to do is take a little bit more of a deeper look.
Jason Hatcher, Defensive Tackle
Coming into this camp I had my concerns about his ability to play with power and handle the job as the nose tackle in this scheme. But through these practices he has been consistent in how he has taken on blocks and worked his way to the ball and been in on plays. He has always been a quick player off the ball, but in working with Rod Marinelli and Leon Lett, his pass rush technique has improved as well. He has better hand use and you see him separate from blockers with ease. In the team goal line period he was a real factor in the defense going three-for-three in stops.
Orlando Scandrick, Cornerback
I have been around several players in my career that have a keen understanding of the game from a mental standpoint, but I would have to say that Orlando Scandrick is in my top three. He is an aware player who fully understands the scheme and how it needs to be played. He has been an aggressive player in the past but this year he has taken that to a whole different level. Whether it has been on the outside or the slot, he has attacked the ball at every opportunity. He has been physical -- down the field and in the air. He has not been taken advantage of in coverage nor has he played soft. He has been in position on routes and his technique has been top shelf. He has had a history of playing well in camp, then folding during the season but this year with this staff, he appears to be on a different path.
Doug Free, Offensive Tackle
For Doug Free, there is nowhere for him to go but up. His rotation last season with Jermey Parnell left his future in doubt, but to his credit he played better during that period and carried it over to these practices. Where Free gets in trouble is with his technique, but working with Bill Callahan and Frank Pollack, he has been more consistent. It was very clear of how far he had come when DeMarcus Ware flipped sides on a rush and matched up against him. As we all know, Ware can break down a tackle in space with the best of them, but Free got away from the line with ease, set up and though he initially missed with his hands, he was able to reset them and work them inside on Ware, then work him wide. This club needs Free to play better and for these past two weeks, he has.
Ernie Sims, Outside Linebacker
You hear me talk about scheme fits a bunch but with Ernie Sims. It's very clear that this 4-3 defense is the perfect fit for him. He has the range and the athletic ability to make consistent plays. He is always around the football, and, no matter where they have played him, he has been in the action. In these practices he has played with a chip on his shoulder and is not afraid to mix it up with anyone on the offensive side of the ball. It's entertaining to see Sims and DeMarco Murray go at it after a play. He doesn't have the ideal height but he makes up for it with toughness and great anticipation. He is one of those linebackers that sees it and then goes to get it. He has caused turnovers and been in on 3rd down stops. He proved last season how valuable he was as a role player and this year, he appears to be no different.
Lance Dunbar, Running Back
I have been impressed with the running backs as a group. I like what I have seen from DeMarco Murray, Phillip Tanner and Joseph Randle. They have all brought a different skillset to the practices, and Gary Brown's work with them has been positive. But the one guy that has really stepped his game up has been Lance Dunbar. As an every down back in college, he is trying to prove that he can do the same in the NFL. In these practices, he has shown quickness along with explosiveness to get through or around the corner with the ball in his hands. As a pass blocker, he has been willing and successful despite not having idea height to take on defenders that are much larger than him. He has been outstanding catching the ball, and, when in the open field, he has been difficult to bring down. The one advantage of his height is that it does allow him to hide behind the offensive line, as they are moving, and a make a cut. I honestly believe that if given the opportunity, he could handle the physical work load because he does have a unique skillset to do the job.