IRVINE, Calif. – Better. Much, much better.
Those were the Cowboys here on Wednesday practicing against the Los Angeles Chargers, yes, a much better showing than last week's practice against the Denver Broncos.
The Cowboys intensity was much better. Emotion was much higher. And generally, the execution was sharper, and maybe all to be expected with already one practice against another team and the Denver preseason game under their belts.
Oh, and a much more civil practice, too. Almost no brush fires like what ignited with the Broncos. In fact, on the Cowboys offensive field, only really recall but one push and shove taking place.
And as for a continuation of what took place in the preseason game against the Broncos when the Cowboys ran for 141 yards, the Cowboys did a nice job running the ball, especially with Ezekiel Elliott.
"If we can run the ball efficiently and control the line of scrimmage, we'll be that much better of an offense," Zeke said.
And by the way, remember back to last week when Bradley Chubb took a cheap blindside _shot_ at Zeke, knocking him to the ground in these non-tackling practices. Well, Zeke ran one up the middle in this one, and just to make sure, he lowered his shoulder and knocked the helmet right off a Chargers defender.
"That's the type of tone I try to set every time I step on the field, period," Zeke said.
Tone set with that shoulder shot. Period.
- Turpin Time Again: The Cowboys got a better glimpse of just why KaVantae Turpin was selected the USFL MVP this past season. And it wasn't solely because he averaged 15.3 yards on punt returns. This guy that even I can look eye to eye with (he's 5-7, 158) showed the Cowboys and the Chargers, too, he also can be a dynamic receiver. He made a couple of remarkable catches in this practice, and we're not talking just running 9-routes to utilize his speed, but was running crisp routes and has really good hands. "Yes sir, they know I can play special teams," Turpin said after he ran some extra goal line routes with Cooper Rush throwing after practice and still a tad out of breath. "I'm just trying to show them I can play wide receiver in this offense, too. … Just trying to show them I'm reliable and can play any position – returner, receiver, run the ball, too." And you will like then the just-turned 26-year-old's nature as well. "I can wake up and do that in my sleep, that's easy," Turpin said of playing special teams. "I'm trying to show the NFL guys I can play receiver, too. And when asked what'll it take for a guy my size to make it in the NFL, without hesitation, Turpin says, "Speed kills, you know." Yep, we know.
- Higher Barr: Thought this Anthony Barr was a big man when he did his first interview after signing with the Cowboys. But seeing him Wednesday in pads for the first time, this is a big man, I'm telling you, 6-5, 257. The Cowboys began peeling the wraps off the 30-year-old linebacker, removing him from PUP and getting him into individual drills, position drills and a little 7-on-7. "It was training wheels, you know," Barr said, but pointing out he's been working out and conditioning since March with a bunch of NFL guys coming out to Los Angeles to train. "It's always good to work out with other guys doing what you're doing." Can't wait to see more.
- Oh, That Line: Saw some improvement from that Cowboys' first-team offensive line, especially with Tyron Smith anchoring the left side at tackle and mostly neutralizing the Chargers' Khalil Mack. But you know what? Terence Steele at the other tackle wasn't too shabby handling Joey Bosa in the team periods. The Cowboys continued sharing first team snaps at left guard between Connor McGovern and first-round draft choice Tyler Smith. Think of this line's development with these young guys akin to slow roasting, not air frying.
- Darn Hammies: Was generally a bright day for the Cowboys until nearing the end of team periods when slot corner Jourdan Lewis limped off the field with Cowboys head trainer Jim Maurer, having strained a hamstring. Looks as if that's it for Lewis the rest of this week, including Saturday's preseason game against the Chargers, and maybe for most of next week, with two night practices at Ford Center scheduled and the third preseason game at home against Seattle on Friday night. That would leave Lewis then 15 days to be ready for the Sept. 11 season opener. Lewis was replaced in the slot by fifth-round draft choice DaRon Bland with even former corner converted to safety Israel Mukuamu taking some slot reps. Bland has been impressive so far in camp.
- Formers Updates: There were two former Cowboys players on the field Wednesday, Jalen Guyton and Nate Jones. Guyton, out of Allen (Texas) High School and then the University of North Texas, signed with the Cowboys in 2019 as an undrafted free agent, the Cowboys releasing the wide receiver on the final cuts. He has since latched on with the Chargers, and in the past two years has caught 103 passes for 959 yards and six touchdowns. Jones, a defensive back for the Cowboys from 2004-07, is now an NFL official, a field judge, and was on the NFL crew working where the Cowboys offense and Chargers defense practiced. This is Jones' fourth season as an NFL official.
- Formers Coaching: This one nearly slipped by me, but former Cowboys practice squad defensive lineman Marcus Dixon, hampered by injuries from 2008-10 and who played 22 games over three seasons with the Jets (2010), got into coaching and actually was on the Rams staff as an assistant defensive line coach last year, so winning a Super Bowl ring, and now is working as Denver's defensive line coach. Then there is L'Damian Washington, signed as an undrafted receiver out of Missouri in 2014, but separate injuries caused the slightly built Washington to be released during training camp. Six more teams signed him and released him over two seasons (2014-15), spending some time on the Giants, Brown and Dolphins' practice squads before getting into coaching. In 2022, Oklahoma hired the Shreveport, La., native as an assistant wide receivers coach and after receivers coach Cale Gundy left the program this summer, the Sooners promoted Washington to receivers coach.
- Cali Shorties: The Cowboys continue acclimating to the heat after all those 70-degree days in Oxnard, first practicing against the Broncos in Denver where it was in the 90s, though dropping into the low 80s for the night game, and Wednesday in Costa Mesa the temps hit around 85 for practice … Good to see Will Grier getting snaps in individual drills and 7-on-7 after missing last week with a strained groin … With CeeDee Lamb resting a sore foot, the first three receivers up with the offense were Jalen Tolbert, Noah Brown and Dennis Houston/Simi Fehoko …With Ian Bunting released/injured and Jeremy Sprinkle struggling some, keep an eye on undrafted rookie free agent Peyton Hendershot, No. 49, out of Indiana where he set the school's tight end career record with 136 catches for 1,479 yards.
For the last word we turned to Mike McCarthy. You know, so much is made of Micah Parsons at linebacker and now Barr joining the team but seems the head coach agrees with my recent assessment of Leighton Vander Esch, now healthy, removed from a couple of surgeries and receiving an upgraded opportunity to play middle linebacker in this defense.
"Obviously you know the type of year he had before I arrived here," McCarthy began, referring to his Pro Bowl rookie season of 2018, "then coming off an injury season, and there is always a process of players going through that, but I think clearly Leighton is in great shape. I think he's past the injuries and he's in a great groove right now. He's playing with a lot of confidence. We haven't played a game yet, but I think he's poised to have a great year."
Nice "shot" out to end with.