OXNARD, Calif. – Jason Garrett has said multiple times in recent weeks that he wants his practices to have a competitive give and take, with no clear victor on either side.
If that's the standard, the Cowboys' head coach will assuredly be pleased with what he saw from an entertaining session on Monday afternoon.
Red zone drills can bring that out in a team, and it got pretty spirited when the offense and defense lined up down inside the 20-yard line. Things started off smooth enough, as a short carry by Ezekiel Elliott and a nice catch by Michael Gallup moved the offense down toward the 10-yard line.
Dorance Armstrong helped the defense buckle down starting on the next rep, as he forced Dak Prescott to roll left out of the pocket, then batted down his pass behind the line. Elliott followed that up with a short run to the 7-yard line.
That brought up a 3rd-and-goal, and it was Randy Gregory's turn to make an impact. Gregory drove Cameron Fleming back into the pocket, forcing an overthrow toward Blake Jarwin. The offense settled for a field goal.
The next possession started similarly, as Prescott found Gallup on a crossing route for a nice gain against Byron Jones. Leighton Vander Esch stepped up on the next rep, as he broke on an out route toward Geoff Swaim and broke it up.
Two-straight touches by Elliott, a catch and a carry, moved the offense down toward the goal line. On second down, Jaylon Smith played perfect coverage on Geoff Swaim to prevent a touchdown in the back of the end zone. Smith struck again on the next play, as he broke up an underneath route intended for Elliott.
That brought up a crucial fourth down, and a win for the offense. Prescott was flushed out of the pocket running to his left and found Allen Hurns running across the front of end zone – a last-gasp touchdown.
It was about as riveting as a non-contact practice can get, and it saw plenty of ups and downs for both sides. When Garrett talks about a competitive practice, it was on display on Monday.
Quick Hits From Practice
· Starting safety Jeff Heath (ankle) limped off the field after an Ezekiel Elliott run early in team drills. Heath was able to walk off under his own power with head athletic trainer Jim Maurer, and although he didn't return to practice, the injury isn't believed to be serious. Kavon Frazier replaced Heath in the first-team defense.
· Randy Gregory again lined up at right defensive end with the second-team defense alongside Dorance Armstrong, Jihad Ward and Brian Price. With Tyrone Crawford apparently getting some veteran rest, Gregory did rotate in with the first team during red zone work near the end of practice.
· In his first practice back from the Active/Physically Unable to Perform list, defensive tackle Maliek Collins did conditioning work in a helmet and pads with associate athletic trainer/director of rehabilitation Britt Brown.
· Dan Bailey had another strong practice, converting all six field goal attempts from approximately 33, 38, 42, 43, 46 and 48 yards during the special teams period.
· Cameron Fleming worked at first-team left tackle with Tyron Smith apparently getting a rest day, as he has periodically in camp.
· Cole Beasley (groin) did not practice again, as did fellow receiver Noah Brown, who has been battling a hamstring injury throughout camp.
· Defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli wants pass rushers who can bend around the edge, and Dorance Armstrong has that ability. He dipped his shoulder and won consecutive reps against Jake Campos in one-on-one drills, then appeared to get past Chaz Green in the "compete" period in front of the team.