OXNARD, Calif. – Sunday might have been our most noteworthy practice so far, in terms of impressive plays. The offense and defense both seem to be finding their rhythm and giving each other a tough challenge.
Here are some of the best notes I took while watching it all play out on the practice fields:
- Byron Jones continues to show the range in these practices the coaches are looking for in games. Playing out of the middle of the field, he was able to read Dak Prescott's eyes looking toward Dez Bryant on a vertical route to the left sideline. Even before Prescott pointed his left shoulder in that direction, Jones was out of his pedal and heading in Bryant's direction. Nolan Carroll had Bryant locked up and the NFL official to that side was letting him get away with it. The ball from Prescott was a little short and Jones, like he had done the previous practice, was able to lay out, extending his arms and once again high-point the ball in the end zone.
- Noah Brown, like Byron Jones, put together back-to-back practices to serve notice that he wants a spot on this roster and just not on the practice squad. His touchdown catch over Chidobe Awuzie reminded me of the catch he made last season while at Ohio State against Wisconsin. With the ball on the 20-yard line going in, Brown executed a perfect fade route to the right corner of the end zone, getting just enough separation in order for Kellen Moore to have the space to fit the ball in over the top. Awuzie was late getting his head around to find it, while Brown was able to track it the entire time. When Brown put his hands up, I initially thought he didn't have a chance but he was able to make the adjustment. By extending his hands, he was able to secure the ball and get both feet down in the end zone to complete the play.
- If you are looking for positive signs from Taco Charlton, he was able to draw a holding call on Tyron Smith during the team portion of practice. It might not be much, but his rush on the snap put Smith in a poor blocking position -- which translates into a good surge off the line and breaking him down with technique. I am not asking Charlton to win every time against Smith or Zack Martin, but if you can see him win one out of every four times, then he's making progress.
- Another day of pitch and catch for Dez Bryant and Dak Prescott. Bryant was able to do some damage to the defense once again on a crossing route, which has been a staple of these practices. Earlier in the practice, Bryant and Prescott hooked up outside the numbers during blitz period when Bryant was able to drive Orlando Scandrick back out of his pedal, then curl inside. Prescott, once again from the middle of the pocket, threw a strike to Bryant -- who was waiting with separation.
- It's a nice feeling for an offensive coordinator when he can call a run play into a blitz and have it turn into a huge play. One of Ezekiel Elliott's best runs of the day was a perfectly blocked play by the offensive line. Jonathan Cooper was able to kick Cedric Thornton outside. Travis Frederick was able to secure a blitzing Sean Lee, and Tyron Smith also worked to the second level to grab Anthony Hitchens. With all three blocked, there was plenty of room for Elliott to operate up the field. What was entertaining about the play was that as soon as Prescott handled off the ball, he raised both hands in the air as to signal "touchdown," knowing the play had a chance -- and it did.
- A missed assignment by Byron Bell at left tackle hurt the offense's chance for a nice gain during blitz period. Kellen Moore made a heck of a throw to Brice Butler, but it was all for naught when Bell failed to bounce outside to pick up a blitzer off the edge. Initially, I thought it was Darren McFadden that might have missed the pickup due to the fact that he stayed inside to pick up the linebacker along with Bell -- but that wasn't the case. When Jason Garrett had the defense walk through the play again, McFadden had the right man and Bell was in the wrong.
- Haven't said much in these practices about Jameill Showers, but it was nice to see him step up and make a play in the blitz period. Cooper Rush tried to fit the ball underneath to Connor Hamlett, but Showers was able to read it all the way by driving in front of Hamlett to knock it away. If Showers had a little better ball skills, he might have come away with an interception but he just couldn't secure it with his hands.
- I have to give Anthony Brown a lot of credit for the way he practices, because he's never going to back away from a challenge. I always see him in coverage on Dez Bryant, Terrance Williams and Cole Beasley. Most days, he's right where he needs to be technique-wise, and other days he is just a bit unlucky. When you have to deal with a player like Dez Bryant, near the goal line and in a one-on-one situation, there are going to be issues due this Bryant's ability to play vertical in the air. Where Brown gets in trouble with Bryant, it's not his positioning but locating the ball. There are snaps where Brown is just not able to get his eyes around to see where the ball is. When Bryant extends, as a defender, you have to extend with him in order to have a chance to defend -- but you have to be able to find the ball first.
- The more I study Rod Smith during these practices, the more I get the feeling that the front office and coaching staff is becoming comfortable with him being the third running back on this team. Smith is young, in great shape and plays on special teams -- which is a big deal. He has shown a physical side carrying the ball and a feel for how to create space for such a large man. Alfred Morris is a proven veteran, but the phrase "teaching an old dog new tricks" comes to mind with him. Morris is doing everything in his power to hang in there, including being better in the blitz pickup -- so he's not going away quietly. It will be an interesting decision, but a great deal of that has to do with what we hear on the Ezekiel Elliott front -- hopefully soon.
- This is what I feared coming into camp with Chaz Green - - the injury that would knock him out of practice. It appears that he has a shoulder injury that will require no surgery but just rest. No real timetable on how long, but the trainers and front office have about six weeks before the start of the regular season to see where he is health-wise. As much as people want to believe that the fight for that left guard spot is over, I am not buying it. Byron Bell has played guard in this camp as has Emmett Cleary. Given the option of the two, I would select Bell over Cleary. I also believe that we could see Joe Looney slide over there and take some snaps as well to compete with Jonathan Cooper.