FRISCO, Texas – Having had a chance to re-watch this preseason performance, I obviously have some thoughts.
Again, we're not interested in the final score here. Each preseason game is another piece of the puzzle that helps put this roster together – especially for these young players, who receive their biggest opportunities of training camp in the games.
Here's what stood out to me, from the top of the depth chart to the bottom of the roster.
· It was such a great effort by Taco Charlton to get around Cedric Ogbuehi for his sack. There was a time where Charlton wouldn't have been strong enough to leverage a tackle on the way to the quarterback. But in this case, Charlton's under move was so powerful that he also drew a holding call on the play. Ogbuehi had no choice but to try and stop him by tackling him. You can see huge improvements in strength levels from Taco Charlton's first season to this one.
· I liked the third down slant call to Michael Gallup and the throw by Dak Prescott to put it right on him. Prescott could have made a short throw to Allen Hurns, who also ran a slant out of the slot, but he went with the rookie instead. Gallup did a nice job of starting his route to the outside, then breaking it in to receive the ball.
· Jeff Heath is becoming a valuable player when he's asked to play down in the box. His read and reaction of Tyler Boyd's jet sweep was impressive. It's not often that Sean Lee is beaten to the point of attack, but that's exactly what Heath was able to do. He also made a nice wrap up tackle to get Boyd on the ground quickly.
· I'm starting to see Scott Linehan using these running backs more in the pass game to take advantage of their skill sets. I thought he came up with a creative design to get the ball to Rod Smith in the flat. It wasn't your normal screen with blockers in front. Instead, Prescott faked the jet sweep to draw the defenders to one side of the field, than slipped Smith out the other side. By doing this, the offensive line created a wall to trap the defenders inside. Prescott held the ball as long as he could, then flipped it to the outside where Smith broke a tackle in space for a sizeable gain.
· You can tell that Kris Richard has rubbed off on Chidobe Awuzie and Byron Jones by the way they fill against the run off the edges. What I have noticed is that, when the ball gets to the outside, both Awuzie and Jones have stepped up in order to funnel it back to the inside, where Sean Lee, Jaylon Smith and Jeff Heath are waiting to make tackles. Cornerbacks that can deny inside routes and step up in the running game are critical to an outstanding defense.
· Keep an eye on Tyree Robinson with all these injuries to the safety position. I have been waiting for him to show up in a game, and on Saturday night he did just that. I have always liked his size and length coming out of Oregon, but he just hasn't put it all together. There have been practices where he has flashed but then disappeared for two or three days. I wasn't really sure you could trust him, but his textbook tackle of Gio Bernard in the hole showed his willingness to be a physical player and finisher. Robinson is going to get plenty of opportunities and if things break right for him, he could be a part of this roster.
· If you have been following along with our camp coverage, you have heard us talk about the strength concerns with Connor Williams. What you have also heard us mention is his athletic ability and awareness. Early in the game, Geno Atkins and Carl Lawson ran a stunt to his side. Tyron Smith locked up on Lawson and drove him to the inside. Williams bumped off Smith, sensing that he was in control. Williams smartly went behind Smith and picked up Atkins well before he had a chance to reach Prescott in the pocket. Rookies don't generally make those types of adjustments.
· It's a shame that Mekale McKay didn't extend his hands in order to grab that deep ball from Mike White. I have seen McKay use his length in order to win those balls in the air during camp. This time, in his adjustment, he went for the cradle to his body instead of the extension. It might have been the best deep ball that White has thrown all camp. To not come away with the reception was tough on him, given the struggles he has had.
· One of the ways that cornerbacks protect themselves on the edge when taking on blockers is to get to the ground quickly and take their legs out. This is exactly what Dre Kirkpatrick did to Zack Martin. Kirkpatrick's right shoulder ended up in Martin's knee, forcing the injury. Initially from my broadcast position I thought that Kirkpatrick might have caught Martin in the ankle but that wasn't the case at all.
· Chaz Green will get blamed for giving up a sack to Jordan Willis, but part of that blame should also fall on the shoulders of Mike White. The play design was for Lance Lenoir to run a "go" route. Lenoir was able to clear the corner and safety, but instead of letting the ball fly, White double pumped it -- which allowed Willis the opportunity to capture him in the pocket. There was a good chance the play would have scored with the separation that Lenoir was able to create.
· Rico Gathers saved Mike White from a turnover with his catch over the top of Chris Worley. White moved to his right in the pocket but didn't get enough on the ball. Worley was in ideal shape to make the interception, but Gathers managed to get his hands in between Worley's and took it right off his facemask. For Gathers, he continues to make those rare plays in the limited playing time that he receives.
· This Cowboys defense continues to create turnovers in the preseason. Through two games they have five takeaways. As good as the Chidobe Awuzie interception was, the hustle play by Taco Charlton to retrace his steps on his rush and chase the ball some 10 yards down the field in order to get a hit on Tyler Boyd was impressive. Boyd never saw Charlton coming, because he was dealing with Joe Thomas. Charlton hammered the ball out with his right hand. Kavon Frazier had the first shot at the ball, but it too was knocked loose. With the ball bouncing around, Byron Jones managed to scoop it up just as he's done many times before in those drills that Kris Richard has them run in practice.