Scout's Notebook: Big Battles In Pass Coverage

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FRISCO, Texas – This might just be our last padded practice before the real games begin.

In anticipation of this third preseason game, the Cowboys got after each other in a competitive practice indoors at Ford Center.

As of right now, it's hard to say what the playing assignments are going to look like for this Sunday night game against Arizona. But Thursday offered us a good glimpse of the Cowboys' available starters in a good back-and-forth session.

Here are my notes from the morning session:

·     It would have been a bang-bang play in the pocket for a DeMarcus Lawrence sack to prevent a tremendous adjusting catch by Michael Gallup. Lawrence was able to get a hand on Dak Prescott just as he let the ball fly toward Gallup, who went air in the air over the top of Chidobe Awuzie. Gallup did a nice job of tracking the ball as Awuzie was just a tick late getting his eyes around.

·     I like the use of Ezekiel Elliott and Tavon Austin on the shovel pass. It's a well-thought-out design where the defense has to respect Austin's speed coming across the formation and then sneaking Elliott inside behind him. Prescott's ball handling skills also work well here, giving the impression that Austin does in fact have the ball, which pulls the defense out of place.

·     Impressive four-man twist game by Randy Gregory, Kony Ealy, Tyrone Crawford and DeMarcus Lawrence to force Dak Prescott to unload the ball in the red zone. Lawrence drove so hard to the inside that all Ealy had to do was make the short trip around Chaz Green to be right on top of Prescott. By the time Prescott felt the pressure from the outside, it was too late. He had no choice but to get rid of the ball to avoid the sack. 

·     Jaylon Smith continues to do good things in pass coverage. Every practice, there is a snap where Smith is locked up with a skill player and he rallies to knock a pass down or make a stop. With his defense backed up in the end zone, Smith had to carry Geoff Swaim on a difficult route to defend. It's a route where the tight end drives hard to the inside, then pushes off the defender and works back to the outside. Smith was able to hang in there and not let Swaim push off him. By staying with Swaim, Smith forced a contested catch, all while keeping him out of the end zone.

·     Cole Beasley doesn't get enough credit for how well he plays in the red zone. For a guy that lacks height, he has a wonderful feel for how to get open when the space is tight. Beasley, working out of the slot, put Kavon Frazier in a terrible spot with his route. Frazier played Beasley as if he was going to cross his face and was ready to adjust with him. Instead, Beasley stopped in his tracks, which froze Frazier. Prescott saw it all the way and fired the ball to the outside where Beasley was able to make the catch for the score.

·     It doesn't often happen, but Ezekiel Elliott had a blown assignment on a blitz pickup. On the play, Sean Lee had a free run at Dak Prescott unblocked -- which would have resulted in a big hit. I thought initially that Kadeem Edwards might have been the guilty party as Lee rushed through the "B" gap, but that wasn't the case. Elliott was too far to the outside instead of sitting down inside.

·     Almost a heck of a play by Tavon Austin working across the field against Chidobe Awuzie. Prescott did a nice job of moving to his left while keeping his eyes down the field. Austin had a step or two on Awuzie, as the ball went over the top. Austin's hands appeared to go up just a little late, and he could only get his finger tips on the pass. If Prescott could have delivered the pass just a hair lower, Austin would have been off to the races.

·     Deonte Thompson was back at practice and getting work. He and Cooper Rush hooked up on a shallow crossing route where he drove Jourdan Lewis off the ball, then broke to the inside -- which allowed him a good five yards of separation. Thompson appeared to be moving well with some quickness in his route.

·     The jet sweep to Lance Lenoir worked largely in part due to a block by Rico Gathers on Jeron Johnson. Gathers was able to arc release and got into Johnson, pushing him wide and allowing Lenoir to cut inside of him for a nice gain. We're starting to see signs where Rico Gathers' overall game is beginning to improve.

·     Call it fresh legs, but I noticed newly-signed Caraun Reid at defensive tackle during the practice. When I studied Reid at Princeton, I was impressed with his first step quickness and it appears that he still has that trait. The defensive staff had him lining up at the one-technique, and there were several snaps where he shot off the ball and was up the field before the center had a chance to react. Reid also showed some pop in his hands, knocking back blockers and controlling them along the line of scrimmage.

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