OXNARD, Calif. – After months of hearing about Ezekiel Elliott, the Cowboys' defenders got a chance to hit him on Monday – and they did.
Monday marked the first padded practice of Elliott's NFL career, and it became apparent early on that things would be physical. The rookie running back took several carries during the full-team portion of the afternoon practice, and he got popped on virtually every one.
Sean Lee met him in the hole on his first carry of the afternoon. Moments later, Kyle Wilber lowered his shoulder and put Elliott on the ground.
Barry Church perhaps drew the biggest reaction when he flipped Elliott into the air on a tackle in the hole.
"I got a little pop on him," Church said. "I saw him in the hole, I saw him kind of lower his shoulder, so I took the challenge on there."
From the outsider's perspective, it was easy to think that the Dallas defense was sending a message to their vaunted new running back: welcome to the NFL, rook. Church said that wasn't the case – just the results of a competitive practice.
"You're reading a little bit too much into that," he said. "We were just playing the game. He came up to the hole a couple times and we just gave him a little pop."
Elliott is undoubtedly due for more pops – both during training camp and in the long NFL season to come. True to his head coach's mantra, Church said going against Elliott can only help the defense improve ahead of the approaching season.
"He's a hefty guy, so we're going to go against hefty backs like that all throughout the season," he said. "It's a great warmup for us just going against a guy like that. He's dynamic and he's going to help our team and help our defense improve."
- Byron Jones has gained notoriety in the last year for his practice battles against Jason Witten. With Jones moving to free safety, it's Church who has drawn that duty so far in camp. Church and Witten gave fans a good laugh on Monday when Witten barked at Church for holding – a claim which the safety vehemently denied. "Man, this dude – they all talk about the hold, but they don't see the extended arm push off," Church said. "I got a little pro tug on him – a little tug. He's going to complain about that all day, every day, but it just makes me better."
- It's expected that Alfred Morris would get overshadowed by Elliott's selection at No. 4 overall in the draft, but the veteran running back did his best to re-insert himself into the conversation on Monday. Morris ran exclusively with the second-team offense, but he burst into the second level on every carry he took.
- The vast majority of the Cowboys' roster is healthy enough to practice, but they did limit several of their injury concerns. DeMarcus Lawrence, Orlando Scandrick and Gavin Escobar all suited up and went through portions of the afternoon, but they were held out of full-team reps.
- After Darius Eubanks' departure from camp on Sunday, the Cowboys will hold several more workouts on Tuesday morning. Linebackers Emmanuel Acho, James Morris and Quayshawn Nealy will work out in hopes of filling the open roster spot.
- Morris Claiborne is getting a look at kick returner alongside Lucky Whitehead, as was written about earlier Monday. The Cowboys also worked on punt returns on Monday afternoon, and it was rookie receiver Ed Eagan – not Cole Beasley – who split the reps with Whitehead.
Darius Jackson –The rookie running back generated some buzz when he was drafted in the sixth round in May, and he showed why in his debut practice. Running with the third team offense, Jackson showed some impressive speed and elusiveness, stopping and starting on a dime and reversing field several times to pick up extra yardage.
Charles Tapper – The rookie defensive end had a strong first day with the pads on, not only showing that speed, but some power, too. Tapper had three nice bull-rushes in the 1-on-1 drills but more than held his own against starters Doug Free and Tyron Smith, beating the veterans off the edge a couple of times.
Andy Jones – Every year it seems like an undrafted receiver has a solid camp and Jones could be the early favorite this season. The rookie from Jacksonville State had three nice catches in the 1-on-1 drills, including a leaping grab on a deep ball where he jumped over Dax Swanson to make the catch before hitting the ground.
Play Of The Day
It wasn't the most amazing play we'll see during this training camp, but why not give Anthony Brown some recognition? The coaching staff threw the rookie onto the field for full-team reps with the first-team defense – likely because Orlando Scandrick sat out the period. Working in the slot, Brown was in the right place at the right time when Tony Romo and Cole Beasley miscommunicated on a short curl. The ball went wide on Beasley and wound up right in Brown's arms, where he fell to the ground to make sure he held on for the interception. Not bad for a sixth-round pick during his first day of practice.
Unofficial Injury ReportMissed Practice:
DT Tyrone Crawford (back)
DT Maliek Collins (foot)
DE Benson Mayowa (knee)
RB Darren McFadden (elbow)
RB Lance Dunbar (knee)
LB Jaylon Smith (knee)
LB Damien Wilson (eye)
TE James Hanna (knee)