OXNARD, Calif. – There are many more practices left to study before the Cowboys break camp here, but I wanted to share some early impressions from their first padded practice on Saturday. Several players showed up on tape – some for the right kind of reasons, and some for the wrong kind.
- I thought Devin Street had a strong start in his work against the defensive backs. This club is looking for a guy that can step into that fourth position if the plan continues to be Bryant, Williams and Beasley manning the top three spots. In the one-on-one drills, Street was able to show initial quickness and a burst off the line to gain separation. I like what I observed from his stem speed and the top of the routes mechanics. He wasn't all over the place in his routes. You could see that he had a plan and he was doing a nice job of executing it. He protected the ball with his body, but if I did have a concern, I would have liked to have seen him extended better for the ball on his vertical route. By not doing so, it allowed the corner to knock the ball away from him where he could have made the catch.
- A linebacker that showed up when the pads came on was Kyle Wilber. For a player that, at this time last season, didn't appear to have a spot on the defense that suited his game, Wilber has found a home as an outside linebacker for Rod Marinelli. I like the way he played with body control and balanced both run and pass. When he took on Tyler Clutts at the point of attack, he didn't shy away from the contact or turn his body to avoid. Instead, he was square to the line and forced the ball back inside to his teammates to make the play. It appears that the coaches are going to use him in this scheme with his hand on the ground as a rusher, as well. In the one-on-one pass rush drills and during the Team Period, he was a handful for the tackles to have to deal with. I believe that the strength of Wilber's game is his ability to play with range and a burst.
- Tyrone Crawford appears to have put his injury history behind him at this camp and has really hit the ground running. I thought he was outstanding with the pads on. You can see when you watch him play that his lateral speed and burst have really improved. There is more foot quickness to his game, and he is no longer a lumbering style of linemen. He has always had the effort, motor and pursuit but there is quickness to it. His hand use as a rusher and playing blocks in the running game was spot on. His upper body strength and power was on displaying when he took his two hands and shoved them in the middle of Jermey Parnell's chest in the pass rush drill and knocked him flat on his back. Crawford might not have an idea where he is going to play scheme-wise in this defense, but if he continues to put days together like he did on Saturday this staff will find places for him to play on Sunday in the regular season.
- If there was a position that I was not impressed with, it had to be the start for offensive tackles Jermey Parnell and Darrion Weems. I mentioned Parnell's encounter with Crawford, but that was not the only struggle he had during the day. I thought his initial quickness off the snap was solid but his contact balance and body control was really off. There were snaps where he was too high and straight legged which didn't allow him to adjust to handle the rusher. While his feet and body position was off, so was his hand use. On the other end of the spectrum, Tyron Smith was perfect in that regard. I have seen Parnell play better, but keep an eye on those areas I was talking about. Like Parnell, Weems struggled with some of the same issues when it came to his balance and positioning, but his was due mainly to over extension. The quickness out of the stance was a strength -- but it was after that is where he broke down. The wider he kicked to engage his man, the wider his base became and that put him in a position where he could not adjust back inside to the rusher. Anything inside movement put him in a terrible blocking position and an example of that was the snap he took against rookie DeMarcus Lawrence, who just shot inside with a quick swim move, leaving Weems over the tops of his feet. In both cases for Jeremy Parnell and Darrion Weems, these are correctable technique problems but they were not ones that I had expected to see from two players trying to put trust in the minds of the front office and coaches.