OXNARD, Calif. – Saturday was such a great snapshot of where this team is after about a week of practices.
We got to see all of the usual stuff during the evening's proceedings, such as one-on-one drills and the like. But the practice concluded with the always-entertaining two-minute drills, which featured the three offensive units trying to score against the three defensive units in a situational setting.
I wrote plenty about that, as well as several other notes that I observed from the field:
- It hasn't been for a lack of trying, but Dez Bryant had his best day of practicing on Saturday. He made several nice plays from different levels of the field, working against quality cornerbacks. My favorite play of the day was the combination route he executed with Terrance Williams to get separation from Anthony Brown. Williams was able to drive hard to the inside, allowing Bryant to run behind him and causing Brown to have to hesitate for just a split second. Dak Prescott knew the whole time where he wanted to go with the ball and put just enough air under it to allow Bryant to gather it in.
- Byron Jones made back-to-back outstanding plays during the two-minute drill. He showed range coming out of the middle of the field to defend a ball down the sideline to Brice Butler that had a chance to be a huge play. Then, on the very next play, he was able to cover for a slot blitz that Dak Prescott and Jason Witten read as a "hot" throw. As Witten prepared for the ball, Jones drove to his right shoulder and with his off-hand knocked the ball to the ground.
- Speaking of Jason Witten, he gave a lesson in coverage to Chidobe Awuzie -- who was not prepared for his strength. Awuzie was playing on his heels while Witten broke from the line. When Awuzie squared to adjust, Witten slammed into the rookie, knocking him back a good two yards. With the separation secured, Witten broke hard to the outside for the easy reception from Prescott. The coaches have been putting Awuzie in those coverage situations, but I promise you the next time he has to deal with Witten he won't be back on his heels.
- If the offensive line doesn't get a hat on either Sean Lee or Anthony Hitchens, they will make every single tackle -- which was the case on Saturday. There were several plays where the line struggled with their reactions and the results were negative plays. Both of these linebackers read so quickly and play so well on the move that if the offensive linemen spend even an extra second on the down linemen, it has been nearly impossible to get them blocked.
- Watching one-on-one with Nate Newton, he pointed out something that I didn't catch about La'el Collins. When Collins gets in trouble it's not because of his footwork but his hands. When Collins misses with his hands inside on the rusher and he catches, he loses all ability to use his power to control his man. There were several snaps where his hands were outside the framework of the rusher and he was struggling to maintain his ability to protect. When rushers get into his body, he tends to get driven back into the quarterback, which was a problem for him during practice.
- I've never thought of Brice Butler as a smooth route runner but he has shown that ability here the first week of camp. There were several routes where he was able to gain separation from Orlando Scandrick and Anthony Brown not by physically pushing off but with his footwork. He has shown the ability to use one more slight adjustment at the top of his route that has caused these cornerbacks to read him incorrectly. While getting open, Butler has also shown the ability to finish his routes by securing the ball.
- We have seen Taco Charlton work more pass rush moves into his game here recently. I spoke of an arm-over move he has previously used, but during Saturday's practice, he came with a rip move, as well. That move allowed him to take more of a direct path to the quarterback, whereas before he was struggling to gain any form of separation. I also noted that Rod Marinelli is doing him no favors in this camp. He has already had to take snaps against Tyron Smith and La'el Collins, but now they've added some pass rushes against Zack Martin, as well. If he can continue to work his technique and have a plan, he has a chance to improve as a pass rusher.
- Marquez White had a heck of an interception that would have gotten the defense off the field if not for an offsides by Charles Tapper. Cooper Rush went deep down the field to Lance Lenoir, who was working one-on-one with White. With perfect technique, White was able to maintain his position all while tracking the ball. He saw that it was going to be a little short and was able to adjust his body position in order to meet it at the high point. Fully extended, White was able to come down with ball. On a side note, Tapper was on the sideline the next play getting an earful from the coaching staff.
- This was the first practice that we've seen Chaz Green line up at tackle. He has been primarily playing as the left guard in this camp, but he shifted over one spot as the backup to Tyron Smith. The move put Kadeem Edwards on the right side behind La'el Collins for the day. Green continues to impress me with his ability to pass set. His initial quickness, base and power are exactly where they need to be, but where he will struggle is with his finish. The longer he has to block, the harder it is for him to maintain that control. Rushers find ways to break him down so this is an area that he will need to improve on going forward. It is not from a lack of effort or desire but finishing the job.
- One of the best runs of the practice came from Darren McFadden on seal blocks by Joe Looney and Emmett Cleary. The play was a designed trap and was perfectly executed when Looney pinned Jordan Carrell to the inside and Cleary was up on Jaylon Smith. The lane opened up nicely and McFadden got through the hole untouched until he got to the safeties, some 12 yards up the field. Looney has yet to play any guard in this camp. He has been the backup center up until this point and has been steady in those snaps in the running and passing.
- Sammy Seamster was the hero for the third-team group of defenders in the two-minute drill with an interception to end practice. Seamster was in coverage on Lance Lenoir when Cooper Rush tried to fit a ball inside to him. Seamster was able to undercut the route and step in front of Lenoir before the ball arrived. Seamster played the route well and was in perfect position to defend the play without much difficulty.
- I've been told that Jourdan Lewis has a hamstring strain and will be missing some time. This is really disappointing since Lewis was making his first appearance with the group since his trial.