IRVING, Texas – It was a bit of a hectic day at Valley Ranch on Wednesday, as the Cowboys held the last of their OTA practices before next week's minicamp.
For starters, it was the third open OTA for the media to attend, so there were two hours of practice to watch – not to mention a locker room session with the players and press conference with coach Jason Garrett.
On top of that, the Cowboys signed three new players to their roster, giving me some extra tape to watch this afternoon.
What I've done below is record my main impressions from Wednesday's practice, as well as a few brief reports from what I saw of the new players' film.
Have at it:
- Something I never get tired seeing is Jason Witten running a "Stick-Nod" in the red zone – especially with Tony Romo throwing the ball. Not only did Witten turn Byron Jones in coverage, but he also got Jeff Heath out of position as well. The middle of the field opened up nicely and Romo knew exactly where he wanted to go with the ball – which was to a wide-open Witten.
- Of the practices that we have had a chance to observe – I thought this was the best one I'd seen for Randy Gregory. There was some serious juice to his pass rush and it all started with his get-off on the snap. Gregory was in attack mode and there were several reps where the blockers didn't even get their hands on him.
- In our OTA LIVE video segment today, Rob Phillips and I pointed out that Brandon Carr was getting some work on the right side at cornerback. This was an idea that the coaching staff had last season, until Orlando Scandrick injured his knee in training camp. Carr came up with a nice interception of Romo on a vertical "9" route by Brice Butler. Carr played the route perfectly by not allowing Butler to gain any separation on him. When the ball came down inside, Carr was right where he needed to be in order to pull the ball down.
- The best run of the day came from Ezekiel Elliott, but not from a normal single-back set. Rod Smith was in the game at fullback, and it was his block on Anthony Hitchens that allowed Elliott to cut off another block by Zack Martin to break him into the clear off the right side. Both Rod Smith and Keith Smith have done a solid job of finding the right guy and executing their blocks when put in those situations.
- Quick scouting report of newly signed defensive end Lawrence Okoye. The tape I studied was from his time with the 49ers, where he played as a 3-4 defensive end. He's a powerful player but tends to be slow off the ball. Even when he reads first, his reactions are not where they need to be. He will play square down the line to defend the run, and his best pass rush move is his bull rush. He can push the pocket and drive blockers back. He was able to accomplish this against La'el Collins last preseason without much trouble. There's not much initial quickness or effectiveness in the twist game, and he tends to play upright. Put himself in position to make plays but had trouble when he had to finish.
- Rookie cornerback Anthony Brown took first-team snaps with the defense as the nickel corner. It appears that the coaching staff is rotating Josh Thomas and Jeremiah McKinnon as well to try and find a guy that could be a backup to Orlando Scandrick if needed.
- Another quick scouting report – this one of newly signed offensive tackle Bryan Witzmann. I was able to study Witzmann with the Houston Texans, where he lined up at left tackle. This is a wide-base player that doesn't play with much power in his upper or lower body. He has a hard time when he has to deal with a rusher that plays with power. Witzmann struggled to make the cut-off block. He allowed his man to work inside and chase the ball. Tends to catch his man instead of drive them off the ball. Has trouble controlling his man because his lack of power. There are times where his footwork causes his body balance to become off. Had trouble handling the spin move of the rusher. Poor versus quickness.
- It was a rough day for Rico Gathers along the line of scrimmage. There were several snaps where he just wasn't quick enough off the ball, which allowed his man up the field and to the ball carrier. Charles Tapper got him one time on an inside charge before Gathers was able to even react, which led to a tackle for loss. It appeared watching Gathers today that the gears in the head are moving extremely fast – but the body is having trouble reacting to what is going on. This is the learning curve that he is going to have to deal with, but that is to be expected.
- Last quick scouting report, this one of newly signed linebacker Brandon Hepburn. I went back two seasons ago, when Hepburn played for the Detroit Lions. He lines up as an inside linebacker. Long, rangy build with some snap to his punch. Powerful blitzer that can make things happen when he pushes the pocket – but he is not a smooth or fluid-moving player. Doesn't play with much of a burst or quickness. There were snaps where the ball appeared to be moving and he was a tick late on the reaction. It took him time to get going once he saw the ball. He also had some issues when he had to fight through the trash to get to the ball. He didn't get bounced around, but it wasn't easy for him to get there. Can tackle once in position but getting there is a chore. Good angles on short zone drops in pass coverage but anything outside of that is going to cause a problem. More of a physical player than an athletic one.