OXNARD, Calif. – The off day on Monday left me without a lot to write about. So, given the chance to watch another full practice on Tuesday, I got a little excited with my observations.
Rather than subject you to one, 1,300-word breakdown of practice, I decided to split it into two pieces – one set of notes about the Cowboys' offense, and another about the defense.
Below are my defensive notes. You can read my offensive notes here.
- On the first practice back after the off day, there was a change that was made along the defensive line. Randy Gregory was working as the starter at left end, while Greg Hardy was the backup. He also took some snaps at nickel tackle paired inside with Tyrone Crawford. Gregory continues to battle Tyron Smith, who has been outstanding to this point in the camp. Where I thought Gregory would give ground to Smith was in the running game, but he was able to hold his own by extending on Smith to hold the point of attack. The rookie did not look overwhelmed, nor did he struggle with his assignments.
- It was a better practice for Ryan Russell, who had his moments of struggle on Sunday. Russell was much better with his technique and rush in the one-on-one pass rush drill, where previously Rod Marinelli had been not too kind to his rookie defensive end. Russell also had a tackle for loss in the team run period, where he beat the trap block of R.J. Dill and was able to tackle Gus Johnson before he had a chance to get going.
- It was the first practice for Jermey Mincey since ending his holdout two days ago. Mincey, who was the starter at right defensive end last season and before the holdout, was not lined up at his normal spot --but instead he was working with the second defense and on the left side. Mincey was paired with Jack Crawford to gain a sack on a twist stunt against John Wetzel and Darrion Weems when Weems set too wide and Crawford was able to work around him. Mincey also took some snaps at nickel tackle in a role that could lead to him becoming that backup to Tyrone Crawford as the under-tackle.
- I thought it was a much better job by the defense of playing the run than what we had seen from them in the previous practices. As a group they did a much better job of disengaging from blocks and rallying to the ball. The linebackers were especially active while playing on the move. There were also some snaps where they got some help from both offensive line units with some missed blocks at the point of attack. The scheme called for more pulling and the execution just wasn't as clean as it needed to be. There were also some snaps where the backs didn't take advantage of when the correct blocks were made.
- I liked what I saw from Jack Crawford and his ability to line up at a couple of different spots and have some productive snaps. I especially like what I have seen from him playing as that under-tackle in this scheme, which has allowed him to use his quickness more and put him in a straight line to the ball. When he's inside, what I have noticed about Crawford is that he doesn't appear to have only one move. He is willing to try with an arm-over or a spin move to free himself and that allows him to work up the field better.
- I have to admit that I have been waiting for Brandon Carr to come up with a play or two in these practices, and I was finally rewarded for my patience during the play action and run period. On the play, Lucky Whitehead was lined up wide and ran an out route with Carr over the top. Romo wanted to throw the ball inside, but due to the coverage there was nothing there. Instead, Romo pulled the ball down and made the decision to try and fit it to Whitehead along the sidelines. Whitehead was in no position to make the catch due to the coverage by Carr, who was right there. Romo was fortunate that the ball was not intercepted and he was able to have another play.
- Words cannot describe how happy I am for Darren Woodson and his new appointment into the Dallas Cowboys Ring of Honor. In my NFL scouting career I was blessed to be around some of the truly great players in this league. Of all of those gentlemen, Darren Woodson was my favorite. When I came to work for the Cowboys we were on our downward slide and I personally felt terrible for Woody that he had to go through that. Despite our poor record he continued to make every sacrifice physically in order to try and once again bring glory back to this franchise. As much as I respected Woodson in those Super Bowl seasons, I learned more about him in those days when we were 5-11. No matter the situation, Darren Woodson was always a pro. Jerry Jones has had a pretty nice run here lately but this was his best move by far.