IRVING, Texas – Just as suddenly as they arrived, the Cowboys' OTAs have concluded at Valley Ranch. The team had its final day of open practices for the media to observe, and now we have a one-week wait for the start of minicamp.
Having gotten to watch my third full session from the practice fields, here are my top impressions from Wednesday's action.
1) I continue to be impressed by the growth of Byron Jones as a player and how he has responded to every challenge these coaches have put in front of him. In three weeks, Jones has lined up at every position in the secondary. He has played both corners, slot and now safety. On Wednesday, he lined up deep and then two plays later moved down in the box as a linebacker in coverage. What I really liked about Jones' day is that when he was lined up deep you saw that confidence in his communication and reactions -- which you don't always find from a rookie in the secondary.
2) This was the first practice where I noticed Jeremy Mincey lining up on the left side at end instead of his normal spot on the right. Mincey was paired with Tyrone Crawford, Greg Hardy and Randy Gregory. I expect that we could see this rotation more in the future, but the most likely combination would be DeMarcus Lawrence rushing from the left end.
3) I wrote last week about my visit with Derek Dooley and how he is working with Terrance Williams to catch the ball in his hands instead of trapping it along his body. Williams had an outstanding hands catch where he was able to get separation from Brandon Carr on an "In" cut and Tony Romo was able to put the ball between Carr and a breaking J.J. Wilcox. There would have most likely been a big collision between Williams and Wilcox at the point of the catch, but Williams showed nice concentration and hauled the ball in.
4) We're starting to see more snaps where Gavin Escobar is lined up along the line of scrimmage and being used as a point-of-attack blocker. Escobar will never make you forget Jason Witten or James Hanna, but the fact that the offensive coaches are putting him in those situations makes me feel like their confidence level in him has improved in that area. We will see if this carries over to training camp.
5) Cole Beasley had a nice red zone touchdown working up the seam against Orlando Scandrick and J.J. Wilcox. What I really liked about the play was the way that Romo was able to hold Wilcox in the middle of the field with his eyes. In watching the play, you get the sense that Romo knew exactly where he was going with the ball. Romo shot Beasley a quick look then came off him until the last moment when Beasley was in position to receive the ball.
6) This was the first time that we were able to see Sean Lee work in a group period since coming back from his knee injury. The coaches and trainers have been very cautious up until this point with how much Lee practices. Just watching him move on the field, it appears that Lee has full confidence in his repaired knee with the way that he is stop-starting on it as well as the cuts he is making driving on the ball which is a great sign.
7) I noticed Devin Street and Terrance Williams blocking on the edge on Wednesday. There were two or three snaps where the ball got to the edge and Street was mixing it up with Brandon Carr, which allowed the ball to get further down the field. There was a snap where Williams was brought across the formation and did a real nice job of tying up the corner at the point of attack. This is something that is a carryover from what we saw with this group all season.
8)There was a nice red zone battle between rookies Antwan Goodley and Jason Wilson on Wednesday. Wilson was banging on Goodley at the line and up the field on both snaps, but to Goodley's credit he was able to fight his way off the line the first time -- though the ball was too far for his reach. On the second one, Wilson was all over Goodley to the point where the official got him for defensive holding, but to be honest -- the play could have gone either way. I really thought that Wilson was in good position to deny the ball but it wasn't called that way.
9) I have yet to see Anthony Hitchens blocked on a running play while lined up as the middle linebacker. His nose and movement to the ball is impressive. He and Sean Lee were also paired together on the field as nickel linebackers, which gives this defense two guys that can find that ball and go.[embeddedad0]
10) I wish Chaz Green and Laurence Gibson were not injured and missing these reps during practice. I just don't want to see these guys getting behind and struggling when we get to training camp. La'el Collins is getting better each day just getting work with the second and third offense by practicing. There have been times where he has not been perfect, but there have been more positive snaps than negative ones. It's a shame I can't say that about Green and Gibson.
11) Efe Obada is showing me that he is paying attention to his coaches and what they are teaching him. Obada was lined up at left end when Brandon Weeden took the snap and the line went full flow to Obada's right. Weeden then took the ball and made a perfect fake on the stretch play and spun back toward Obada. Instead of flying down inside and chasing the ball, Obada held his ground and forced Weeden to throw the ball wider than he wanted to an open James Hanna. When you talk about instinctive plays, it's usually from a guy like Sean Lee, but in this case it was from a player that has not played much football.
12) Thursday is Cowboys U Day with the local high school kids. I can't tell you how pumped I am to be covering Jason Witten's team in these touch football games. He is just as intense as a coach as he is a player. Full report on DallasCowboys.com of how the day went.