OXNARD, Calif. – At long last, the Cowboys have gone through a padded practice, so I've got some real points to discuss.
Here are my 12 biggest impressions from Saturday's practice, as the Cowboys' gear up for another practice on Sunday afternoon.
1) Even though the rules have changed for how practices are conducted in the NFL, the first day the players can wear pads never gets old.
2) Tyron Smith had as dominant a day blocking in a practice as I had ever seen from an offensive lineman in a practice. It didn't matter who he was facing -- whether it was Greg Hardy or Randy Gregory -- his technique was flawless.
3) As well as Joseph Randle carried the ball during practice, he had better think twice about how he is going about his job in blitz pickup. There were two snaps where Barry Church hammered him back into Tony Romo that could have caused some issues. He was square in his technique but needs to be more firm.
4) As hard as Greg Hardy tried, Tyron Smith had his number. Where I believed that Hardy made his mistake is not trying to set Smith up on some inside rushes. When he went to the corner - Smith was there to cut him off. The problem for Hardy during this practice was that he tried to overpower Smith and that's just not going to happen. Round 1 to Tyron Smith.
5) Much of the talk from practice was the play of Morris Claiborne, and to a point it was justified. Claiborne spent the day rotating with Orlando Scandrick and Brandon Carr at both cornerback positions and looked comfortable in the snaps that he took. His diving interception of Romo was well timed and executed due to his position on Terrance Williams. Not to take anything away from Claiborne, but it wasn't Williams' best route and Claiborne took advantage of it.
6) Thought it was a hit-and-miss day for Devin Street. He had a couple of nice snaps in the one-on-one period working against Scandrick, then he came back with a nice adjusting low catch along the sideline in 7-on-7 against Corey White. Later in that same period, he dropped a slant where I thought he left his feet for no reason while working against White. Then Claiborne had him so tied up on the jam that Street never located the ball -- which resulted in a near-interception for Romo.
7) If Terrell McClain continues to play with the intensity and quickness that he showed on Saturday, there is no question that he will be a major contributor on this defense. There were snaps where he was in the backfield at the snap of the ball. McClain was not feasting on backup offensive linemen, but working well against the first unit. His cross-face pass rush against Travis Frederick was executed perfectly and to the point where Frederick was left reaching for air.
8) As well as Morris Claiborne played in practice, I thought Tyler Patmon was even better. It really didn't matter if it was on the outside or out of the slot, Patmon was on his game. He was physical and aggressive. His positioning was outstanding and his ability to carry his man down the field was on point. His technique was well-played and there was no difficulty whatsoever. When coming out of zone, if the ball was caught in front of him, he was right there to make the tag off.
9) Tony Romo continues to be one of the best I've ever seen when it comes to holding defensive backs in place with his eyes. During 7-on-7 Romo, threw a deep ball down the left side when he was able to hold J.J. Wilcox toward the middle of the field, which allowed Dez Bryant to work his route against Orlando Scandrick. Wilcox really had no choice but to believe that Romo was going back the other way and had to honor that. By the time that Romo was coming back to Bryant, it was too late. Bryant managed to shake from Scandrick and track the flight of the ball right into his hands.
10) Saw a couple of nice flashes from DeMarcus Lawrence on his pass rush. I thought his best move was in the one-on-one compete drill where he put Doug Free in a bad spot with a nice hesitation rush. Lawrence started up the field and then paused for a second which got Free to pause, as well. Then, with a burst, he went around the corner which got Free off balance and not in position to finish the block.
11) I was impressed with what I saw from Lucky Whitehead and his work on Saturday as a receiver. His adjusting catch from Dustin Vaughan in team period was a thing of beauty. Whitehead was working away from Vaughan and had to turn his body in a way to put himself in position to grab the ball high above his head. Whitehead also had a nice day working out of the slot in the one-on-one period using his quickness to buy space.
12) Laurence Gibson playing right tackle had a very nice kick out block on Lavar Edwards that allowed Joseph Randle to break a nice run off in the team period. Gibson was able to knock Edwards to the ground and Randle read it perfectly -- planting off his right foot and cutting behind it to get him on the second level.