REDWOOD CITY, Calif. – Alas, some real football, Cowboys-Niners, Thursday night from Santa Clara at Levi's Stadium.
Gosh, we've seen 11 full practices, and only twice have the pads popped in training camp: One, eight-play goal-line session and then the young guys for about 15 minutes at the end of the Blue-White practice on Sunday. Sometimes you think you know about guys, but you really don't until they play tackle football.
Don't worry about the score. Focus in on individual performances, especially with the young guys since the first-team offense and defense likely won't play much more than eight to a dozen plays.
Now to start the live shots . . . .
· LVE: Sure is hard to evaluate linebackers during training camp, and especially this one since the Cowboys have really only had one all-out tackling session, and for four plays only that included first-round draft choice Leighton Vander Esch. The rookie should get a heavy load in this first preseason game, and anxious to see how LVE plays the run from the middle linebacker spot he's been manning behind Jaylon Smith on the second team.
· On The Line: Not much conjecture what is going on with the Cowboys' offensive line, what with the three Pro Bowlers, plus La'el Collins and now rookie Connor Williams. But what about the backups? Besides Joe Looney, who are they? Not sure anything has been solidified yet. But here is how they've been lining up on the second team: Cameron Fleming LT, Kadeem Edwards LG, Looney C, Marcus Martin RG and Chaz Green RT. Don't immediately turn your nose up on Green. Look, I know, I know, but the Cowboys haven't given up on him and he's actually performed well on the right side, as long as he doesn't dehydrate before practice finishes. Make sure you keep an eye on Fleming, No. 75. As we speak, he is in charge of making sure "Atlanta" doesn't happen again. We'll see.
· Eye On: Question comes up this time of camp, with the first preseason game on deck, 'Who will you be keeping your eye on?' Well, I've got a couple of the less obvious guys. First, Antwaun Woods. Is the first-year free-agent defensive tackle a flash in the pan, one of Bill Parcells' 'one-hit-wonders,' or is this guy for real? We start to find out some more Thursday night. Same with first-year wide receiver Lance Lenoir Jr. He's been one of the most consistent, flashy receivers in camp. But now what happens when the lights come on? He likely will be one of the guys returning punts, too. The two young cornerbacks, Donovan Olumba and Chavarius Ward. Can they continue to make plays? Then running back Darius Jackson. Remember, the Cowboys liked him enough to draft him in the sixth round two years ago, and thought they could release him late in the season, then sign him back to the practice squad. Cleveland interceded, and as soon as the Browns released him in May the Cowboys brought him back. He should get a healthy dose of carries, and remember, he still isn't a full year removed from ACL surgery.
· Mini-Zeke: Gotta love Cowboys fan Alex Hurtado, forking over $800 for child-sized Zeke bobblehead, the sixth of only 12 made. Good on Ezekiel Elliott getting a kick out of the little guy, coming back out to practice to take a picture with Alex and his little guy, then signing the caricature. Said Alex of the cost, "It's worth it now," complete with a signature and the picture. And when someone asked how much he'd sell it for, the answer was succinct, even when the price started going up more than $1,000: "I would take nothing to buy it from me."
· Just For Kicks: The Cowboys' coaching staff has to hope the offense moves the ball well enough to get into field-goal range a couple of times. This will be the first game situation for kicker Dan Bailey since missing a 23-yarder in the final game against Philadelphia last year, along with an extra point. In fact, he missed his final three field-goal attempts of the season. Now, he did return probably too soon from the groin injury. But he's healthy now, and twice last week he went five-of-six in practice and then in play-it-out situations, he missed another each day.
· Bet On Zack: At the end of practice on Saturday Jason Garrett asked the team to pick one non-skill type player, i.e. lineman, to field a Chris Jones punt. If the chosen one caught the punt, no wind sprints to finish the day. The guys chose 315-pound All-Pro guard Zack Martin. Now of course Chris Jones didn't hit one of his sky jobs, but it was a decent kick, and there was Martin cradling the ball and going to his knees for safety first. He leaps up to celebrate and gets mobbed by his teammates. When asked why do you think the guys chose Martin, head coach Jason Garrett said, "I wouldn't bet against him."
· Cool Shots: When new secondary coach Kris Richard began teaching a little different man coverage technique, corner Chidobe Awuzie said he already was playing that way in college, and knew about it from watching online video because "I was a YouTube geek." . . . With Hall of Fame quarterback Kurt Warner on campus Tuesday, and interviewing Dak Prescott for NFL Network, along with Michael Irvin, Warner said of Dak, "I've been impressed with him from Day One, the way he handled himself," and went on to remind everyone, "We start to forget he's only going into his third season." Warner went on to predict Dak was "going to be the backbone of the organization for a long time." . . . As for Irvin, he continued to press upon the fact Ezekiel Elliott is back, and that his six-game absence had everything to do with the Cowboys' offense going flat the second half of the season. Now that's not me, that's Michael, Hall of Fame wide receiver. Good shot.