OXNARD, Calif. –One week of training camp down, two and a half to go, with Sunday's Blue-White Scrimmage a thumbnail version of the competition and challenges the facing the Cowboys leading up to the season.
For starters, 18 of the 90 players on the roster were held out of the session due to injuries, one at every position except for quarterback. And during the live action, full-contact portion of the session, featuring young players competing for roster spots, the depth problems that have popped up on the interior of the offensive line and at running back created problems – bad snaps and the inability to punch the ball in from the one-yard line.
But like all practices, coaches will have to take the good with the bad. There were plenty of players who stood out in a good way, particularly DeMarco Murray, who set the tone for the session with his physical running.
"We came out here as if it was a game as far as stretching, warming up, the whole thing, and it did feel like a game to me," Murray said. "I talked to Sean (Lee) and it felt like a game to him. Guys had a little bit more juice. It was good for us to come out here and compete hard and get into different types of situations."
On the very first play of the day, pitting the starting offense against the starting defense in a seven-on-seven drill, Murray was running out a swing pass reception when he same upon Lee, who squared up and took on the running back, throwing him to the ground. After the play, Murray simply popped up, patted Lee on the head and jogged back to the huddle, to the roar of the 9,008 fans in attendance, the largest ever for a Cowboys camp practice in Oxnard.
Murray starred in the situational portion of the workout, darting through the hole for a number of big gains, and finishing runs with aggression.
"I'm just trying to set the tempo right now," Murray says. "I'm not trying to juke and shake. All that will come later."
For veterans, the practice included red zone and two-minute drill work. The third-team offense and defense then squared off for four series' worth of snaps.
While the starting defense generally got the better of the starting offense in red zone drills, Tony Romo led a touchdown drive in the two-minute period, rushing in himself with less than two seconds remaining on the game clock being kept at practice.
Kyle Orton was impressive with the second-team offense in both seven-on-seven and team drills, throwing six touchdown passes, three to Tim Benford and one apiece to Dwayne Harris, Donovan Kemp and Cole Beasley.
Owner Jerry Jones said he was impressed with young defenders Tyrone Crawford and Kyle Wilber. Free agent addition Brandon Carr made one of the signature plays of the day on defense, an interception of Romo.
Under Stephen McGee in the tackling portion of practice, the third-string offense couldn't muster a first down on three possessions, thanks in large part to difficulty in the running game, which featured a converted fullback playing tailback. Rudy Carpenter replaced McGee for the final series and showed a willingness to push the ball downfield, but the offense stalled out at the one-yard line.
The Cowboys will have five more practices before the preseason opener, at Oakland on Aug. 13.
Until then, Sunday's session was the most important day for the team and the young players on it trying to carve out a niche for themselves.
"We want to, again, see them in games," Jones said. "Those are coming, and when they come, they're going to be on us in preseason and gone before we blink, and so we're going to get to see a lot of reps from them."