Here are some thoughts after taking a moment to empty my scouting notebook from OTAs:
- From my scouting eye, it's pretty clear that the defensive coaches would like to have Barry Church as one of the starting safeties when the club opens the season against the Giants. Who the other safety is going to be opposite him will be a nice battle. Currently, Matt Johnson is running with the first defense and rookie J.J. Wilcox with the second group while veteran Will Allen works to get himself back on the field. I have really liked what I have seen from Wilcox, who manages to always be around the ball when it is blown dead. He has shown more coverage awareness and skill that I remember observing at Georgia Southern. He has done a better job of matching up against these tight ends that all can get up the field in routes. He appears to have a feel for how to carry his man across the field and get his hands on the ball. He has the size, like Church in when the ball is down in the red zone and he has to be physical to gain position, he can handle that. On college tape he really showed the ability to react downhill to the ball in the running game but he has also shown some reactionary skill in coverage. Johnson hasn't played poorly but there have been times in the scheme where Wilcox has shown up a little more. Church has also caught my eye with his play as well. There doesn't appear to be any problems with his movement or confidence in his ability to break on a play.
- I have said this on a couple of different occasions, but I thought I would get it down in black and white. With the way that Jason Garrett and Bill Callahan are using these tight ends in different packages, it appears that are going to play without a true fullback in this offense. I could easily see this club carrying four tight ends and all of them with similar skill sets. Newly signed Dante Rosario, like Witten and Hanna, can line up as the "F" and when these coaches get in a short yardage situation, they can bring "13" personnel on the field with Witten as the inline "Y", Hanna as the "H" and Rosario as the "F". With this personnel group it also allows them to attack defenses with play action because teams will try and match the heavy personnel with larger bodies. It's nothing for Witten or Hanna to slip out if they have created a mismatch in coverage. Gavin Escobar could also be in this mix most likely as the "H" until he gets a better understanding of how to play the "F" if the coaches have that in mind for him. We have seen Witten in the backfield as the "F" before but that was because Martellus Bennett struggled with it while John Phillips was injured. If Lawrence Vickers was a dominate special teams player or even at times a consistent down after down blocker, I might have some different thoughts. I know he can catch the ball but his job is to block first and there are times where that has been a struggle. These tight ends give Garrett and Callahan several nice options to work with.
- Was told that Jay Ratliff was back on the practice field today and took a healthy dose of action. The medical staff has been cautious about the amount of work that he has received and for that I have no problem because he is going to be a key piece to this defense this Fall. When I was in the pro personnel department here, we signed La'Roi Glover from the Saints to play as the three technique for this scheme under Mike Zimmer. We had some poor teams but our defense was not bad and that was because of players like Glover. As much as I am grateful for Glover and what he was able to accomplish here, Ratliff has the potential to be a better player than Glover. I really feel that this defense is the perfect fit for him because of the way he is so explosive up the field. What made him an outstanding nose was his ability to play with his hands and control blocks, now all he has to is attack the gap which is one of his great traits. We have all seen him get pressure inside as a nickel rusher. Now that he doesn't have to face two blockers down after down, it makes his job much easier. From what my sources said today, there were several reps where he showed that quickness I was speaking of but power and strength as well just throwing blockers around. From that report it appears that Ratliff is enjoying the change as well.
- I have to admit that I was one of those guys that was cheerleading for the Cowboys to draft Brandon Magee out of Arizona State and when they passed on him at the end of the draft, the scout in me was disappointed. It was nice to see that the front office was able to grab him after the draft and from what we have all now seen from the draft board, the scouts thought enough of him to have him in the fourth round. I bring up Magee now because he is starting to show up more on plays in both the running game but in coverage as well. There were several reps where guys like DeVonte Holloman and Taylor Reed were showing up more than Magee and that was a concern. The one trait that Magee has is his ability to cover some ground when he runs. In practice on Tuesday, there were several reps where the ball went to the outside and he was right there in position to make the play. In coverage on Dunbar to the outside, he was right there as well and Dunbar has been a nightmare for the linebackers to [embedded_ad] have to deal with in space. Magee appears to be more comfortable in what he is trying to do assignment wise and that has allowed him to play with better flow. What I have also noticed about Magee is when there is some accidental contact and the ball carrier ends up on the ground, it's Magee standing there with hands in the air like he didn't do it. I believe where Magee will really shine is when the pads come on in Oxnard but until then, he is catching my eye with more consistency.