OXNARD, Calif. – For your weekend reading pleasure, here are my top 12 thoughts from the Cowboys' Saturday afternoon practice.
1) With all of the running backs now on the field - this is where I believe the competition really begins for that starting spot. I have felt all along that this would be settled by the second preseason game, but with Darren McFadden coming in injured, the process appears to be set back a week.
2) Little bit of a different look at practice on Saturday with Sean Lee getting some work over the tight end. This group tends to like to shuffle their personnel around, especially at linebacker. What was interesting to observe was that the group on the field together was Lee, Anthony Hitchens and the rookie Damien Wilson. I like this combination due to the fact that all three can run and have a nose for the ball.
3) The Deontay Greenberry from the OTAs showed up at practice on Saturday. It has been a struggle for the rookie as some off the field concerns have finally been put to rest and he can concentrate on his job. During 7-on-7 he ran two really nice routes -- one crossing and the other a corner. Where he had been fighting the ball, he made solid hands catches and was able to break away from the defender.
4) Wasn't the sharpest afternoon in the 7-on-7 period for Tony Romo -- especially early in the period. His first pass to Gavin Escobar over the top of the ball was wide. He made Cole Beasley work to grab a pass on an option route inside, and later, on another pass to Beasley on a corner route, he threw the ball a little high and Tyler Patmon was able to knock it away.
5) I believe that we are closer to seeing Morris Claiborne take snaps as a full-time player. In talking with him after practice, he said that this is the best that he has ever felt in a training camp since he has been with the team. In just watching him work you can see his movement is no longer limited and there is no limping after he takes a rep.
6) Devin Street had another nice finish in the team run and play action period. Street lined up in the slot on the right slot against Tyler Patmon. There appeared to be some confusion between Patmon and J.J. Wilcox to that side on how they were going to handle the coverage. Off the snap, Street started on a crossing route and didn't stop with Patmon in tow. With plenty of room, Street was able to make an easy catch for 25 yards before stepping out of bounds.
7) We're starting to see more of Lucky Whitehead in that Dwayne Harris role as the point of attack blocker in the running game. Whitehead lined up at the wing as Jeff Heath played him over the top. Whitehead exploded into Heath, and, in textbook fashion, put his face in his chest and drove his feet until Heath was out of the play.
8) Jeremy Mincey, Greg Hardy and Randy Gregory are catching a break with no Tyron Smith in the lineup these last two practices. It is a totally different look for the offense without Smith there from the standpoint of how they operate. You will go stretches during the practice where you never see the defender close to the ball -- whether that is defending the run or pass. Nothing against R.J. Dill, but it's noticeable when there is a breakdown on that left side. It would be nice to see Smith back Monday when the St. Louis Rams come to town to practice.
9) I continue to be impressed from what I have seen from rookie Joel Ross. With all the time that these cornerbacks have missed due to injury, Ross has stepped up and fought his way through every opportunity he has received. Ross showed up again during the 7-on-7 period while playing out of the slot against Lucky Whitehead. Brandon Weeden tried to fit the ball to Whitehead on the move, but Ross was right where he needed to be to knock it away.
10) Starting to see more of Ryan Russell having success at defensive end as well as tackle. The decision by the coaches to move him inside appears to have helped his game overall. His technique has improved and you can definitely see that by improving in that one area, his production and confidence have improved, as well. He is doing a much better job of just cutting it loose and attacking the blocker.
11) With the way that Jason Garrett and this staff likes to take a look at different personnel combinations could we see La'el Collins take some snaps at tackle? Jerry Jones said while meeting with the media after practice that he realized that Darrion Weems needed to improve and he was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt due to him having to switch from the right side to the left. But the question I have is: isn't that a swing tackles job? Initially I didn't think that Collins had the foot quickness to play and he still might not, but if I don't see technique improvement from Weems I might consider it an option just to see.
12) I thought it was strange for the front office to add two more running backs to the mix with the injured ones returning to the practice field. The thought there was to get through these practices and game, but they want Tyler Clutts to go back to playing his role as a fullback and not have to carry the ball as a one-back runner -- which makes perfect sense.