OXNARD, Calif. – Here's a handful of encouraging signs for the Cowboys as they come off their second practice with Oakland into the final days of our stint in California.
Having studied the tape from Wednesday morning's practice, three big things stand out. Firstly, the Cowboys are seeing improvement from two key cogs in their defense – Justin Durant and Rolando McClain. On the offensive side of the ball, Ronald Leary is taking his chance to earn a starting guard spot.
Here's a bit more on those topics, along with some other notes:
- Justin Durant continues to find ways to make plays for this defense. On back-to-back throws by Matt Schaub in the red zone, Durant was able to knock balls away. Marcell Reece tried to go up the sideline on him and actually had separation, but Durant was able to rally to get back in coverage before the ball got there. On the next snap, Durant took a zone drop to his left, which put him underneath the receiver on the outside to get a hand on the ball. Later in the period, he played a run perfectly -- taking a quick step to his left, reading the path of the back, then adjusting back to his right to make the tackle in the hole.
- With the clock winding down in the two-minute period and the Cowboys offense facing a 2nd and goal from inside the 1, Tony Romo never entertained the idea of handing the ball to DeMarco Murray. As much as I believe in giving Murray that ball, throwing the ball to Dez Bryant in that situation was actually the better option. Romo knows when he has Bryant one-on-one on the outside, like he did against Tarell Brown, firing the ball his direction is going to get the best result. Romo knows to put the ball to the pylon side and let Bryant do the rest. With his size and ability to get separation right off the snap, there is no way a defensive back can play through him to get the ball.
- Ronald Leary has been running with the first offense these last two practices. Up until that time, Mackenzy Bernadeau had been the starter while Leary took snaps with the twos. I thought it was Leary's best day of practice since returning from his hamstring injury before camp opened. His ability to adjust and move was comfortable. He did not labor or struggle when it came to passing off stunts or twists while working with Tyron Smith. He showed nice sustain in the running game and he did a nice job of handling his man in the running game. I would not be surprised to see him start against the Ravens at that left guard spot on Saturday night.
- If there was a player that needed to have a good practice or two, it was Rolando McClain. You have heard me talk time and time again about the talent I believe that McClain brings to this squad. When studying the practice, it just confirmed my belief that if he can in fact stay healthy and keep his focus on the job ahead, he can be more of a factor in trying to win this starting job away from Justin Durant. For a defense that has struggled with a physical presence at the point of attack, he is a different type of player. He has the ability to extend his arms and play with his hands. You could see this during the practice. He has an impressive ability to take on blockers and get rid of them easily. He can also be a difficult player for a running back to deal with as a blitzer. There is some dip and bend to his game along with a great deal of power. [embedded_ad]
- This front office and coaching staff have to feel good in what they have seen from Terrance Mitchell during this camp. In a group that has struggled with health, he and Orlando Scandrick have been the two guys that have answered the bell each and every day. What I am noticing about Mitchell is that we are seeing less and less of those struggles in coverage in regard to grabbing the receiver and being overly aggressive with his hands. His has shown better awareness in where he can jam and how long he can do it. He is still being a physical player, which helps him in regard to his positioning during the route. His work against the Raiders in the one-on-one drills while the teams were in the red zone was outstanding. He played a vertical ball to James Jones that had touchdown written all over it, but he stayed with Jones, found the ball and was able to intercept it over his head keeping his feet in bounds. Later in the period, Mitchell handled Mike Davis off the line again on a vertical "9" route. As the ball was coming down into Davis' hands, Mitchell ripped at it, knocking it to the ground for an incomplete pass. Mitchell might not be perfect in all his techniques but if there is a rookie player that has benefited from taking so many snaps in practice and improving a little bit each day, he is that guy.