OXNARD, Calif. -- It's not as easy to make notes about a non-padded practice, but there was still plenty to learn from watching the Cowboys work on Thursday evening. Here are my biggest impressions from the first of the final two practices before San Francisco.
1.Jason Garrett put his team in a shells practice on Thursday, and I have to admit from a former scout's point of view, they got something out of the work. Earlier in the day Garrett spoke of learning how to practice in this type of gear due to the number of times they would be required to do so. The players showed bounce and when they needed to be physical to a point, they were able to get that without putting each other in harm's way. Coaches had to be pleasure in this result.
2. As much as we focus on Dez Bryant in the red zone, keep an eye on the work of Terrance Williams when the offense gets down in that area. Williams ran three of the prettiest crossing routes that you will ever see. Each of those routes showed separation and a snatch-catch finish on the move.
3. Nice to see Orlando Scandrick and Brandon Carr once again on the field together. Now if they could just get Byron Jones healthy, we just might figure out how this secondary will attack certain offensive packages for the upcoming season.
4. Could this be the year that Jerry Jones actually gets his wish to see more Lance Dunbar? We have been teased before with the use of Dunbar in certain packages, but I have a feeling this time will be different. I have seen more and more of Dunbar being used like a fifth receiver in his alignment and with his ability to catch the ball and play in space this is not a bad option.
5.There were back-to-back plays in the red zone on Thursday were Dustin Vaughan has to make a quicker decision with the ball. If the coverage is there and the routes are shut down -- get rid of it. Smaller field equals less time to make a throw, and Vaughan needs to realize that. The bright side is that this is happening to him in practice and not a game, so he doesn't make the mistake in that situation when given an opportunity.
6. Jason Garrett promised more looks for Kyle Wilber at middle linebacker, and that is exactly what we saw on Thursday. Wilber had a nice reactionary play in the red zone during the 7-on-7 period where he drove on a route in front of him from Ben Malena. Wilber was able to knock the ball away by going over the top of Malena instead of going through him and drawing a pass interference call.
7. Geoff Swaim continues to find ways to get open in practice and finish plays. His stick-nod route in the red zone would have made Jason Witten proud with the way it was executed. Ka'Lial Glaud was in outstanding position from a coverage standpoint initially, but once Swaim made the break up the field -- that all changed. With the ball delivered high, he was still able to pull it down and get both feet down in the process.
8. Devin Street worked against Brandon Carr in the run and play action period and fooled the veteran corner with a beautiful slant-corner route. Street started the route hard to the inside, which Carr played perfectly. But once Carr made that move, Street was able to easily work behind him and make the catch up the field. The way that Street sold the route was what made that play.
9. A.J. Jenkins made his best catch in camp with a diving grab across the middle during team period. Jenkins had to fully layout and extend for a ball that was low and away from him. The only chance that Jenkins had to make the play was in the manner in which he executed it.
10. Davon Coleman continues to turn heads with his play in the middle of this defense. Coleman, working in the team period, was able to get enough penetration up the field and with the presence of mind to stick his hand up right at the perfect time to knock a ball away that was going to an open Antwan Goodly on the slant.
11. Ryan Russell showed some pass rush moves in the one-on-ones against Tyron Smith, then later in the team period worked around Darrion Weems. Russell continues to be one of those guys that flashes positive finishes, but he isn't always as consistent as he needs to be. There were snaps in the St. Louis practices where he looked ordinary, and that troubles me. I will be interested to see what type of player we get in this upcoming San Francisco game.
12. I could watch Jason Witten play in the red zone all day. The tighter the field, the better he plays. He has a rare ability to find space when there is none and when it comes to making the contested catch - he is money. Where Witten doesn't get enough credit is in his ability to have a plan every play -- not just his assignment but coming up with an idea to set himself up to have success.