OXNARD, Calif. – Jason Garrett promised us a spirited practice on Sunday, and we sure got it.
The Cowboys only have a few days left in California, but this does not feel like a fatigued team when you get out here and watch practice. Sunday evening's session was hotly-contested and energetic all the way through.
Here are my notes from practice, where we saw some fantastic catches and some encouraging signs from the defense:
· I believe you are going to see this Cowboys running game featuring more elements of pulling offensive linemen than at any point of Scott Linehan's tenure as the coordinator. With the patient running style of Ezekiel Elliott and the athletic ability of this line, angle blocks are easier to execute by sealing defenders inside -- which gets blockers out on the edge in space. There were several examples of that where the scheme required Connor Williams and Zack Martin to get to the outside on pulls where they were able to do that cleanly, resulting in sizeable gains by Elliott.
· You can easily see why these defensive coaches are interested in using Jaylon Smith as a pass rusher. Smith was called into the "compete" period with rookie Dalton Schultz and was able to get the better of him. Schultz's initial pass set was good, but then his right foot came off the ground and that was the side that Smith attacked. Schultz was unable to work back to try and counter Smith. Once Smith felt Schultz's weight transfer, he hit him with a spin move that knocked him to the ground. It was a good experience for the rookie to face Jaylon Smith and have to deal with that type of violence from a rusher.
· I mentioned during the 49ers game how Taco Charlton played his assignments well when it came to handling the read options by staying wide. Charlton was outstanding in not allowing the 49ers quarterbacks to have space while throwing the ball. Well today, he took the cheese and fired down to the inside in an attempt to trap Ezekiel Elliott in the back field. Charlton was fooled on the play in large part to the fake of Dak Prescott, who rode the ball to Elliott just that extra step in order to draw Charlton inside. It worked to perfection.
· Tremendous play by Chidobe Awuzie to knock the ball away from K.D. Cannon on the "9" or "go" route. Prescott put the ball in an ideal spot for Cannon to grab it, but before he had a chance to extend his hands, Awuzie swatted it away with his right hand. What was especially impressive about the play was that Cannon can really run and Awuzie was able to stay with him, step-for-step, all while tracking the ball.
· You know your linebackers are locked into coverage when a spot route by the tight end turns into an incomplete pass. Dalton Schultz hooked up over the ball between Sean Lee and Jaylon Smith. Prescott tried to fit the ball inside, but Lee and Smith drove on Schultz, arriving at the exact same time. The force of the two linebackers was jarring, leaving Schultz helpless to make the reception.
· Randy Gregory would have had his first sack of practice during team period, thanks to the work of Tyrone Crawford on the twist stunt. Crawford was able to occupy Connor Williams and Cameron Fleming by driving up the field, which gave Gregory a free run at Prescott. Gregory was so quick on the play that the ball wasn't out of Prescott's hand when he arrived. Luckily for the defense, Gregory got home on the rush because they had a bust in the secondary that left Tavon Austin wide open.
· One of the better receptions that I have seen in these practices was the one-handed catch that Rico Gathers made from Cooper Rush. Rush had a feeling that he was going to get a single-high look from Kam Kelly -- and that's exactly what happened. When he saw Gathers break up the field and to the outside, he floated the ball to him. Somehow, Gathers managed to reach up with his right hand to pull the ball down. Leighton Vander Esch was in good position, but the ball was in a position where only Gathers could get it.
· Exceptional play by Joe Thomas to read the slant by Ricky Jeune from his linebacker spot and quickly react to the outside in order to knock the ball away. Jeune had Duke Thomas beaten off the line to the inside, and he was most likely going to haul in the pass from Mike White – right up until Thomas undercut the route to make the play.
· I think I am detecting a trend here. Two of the best deep balls that I have seen Dak Prescott throw this camp were down the right sideline when the offense was working right to left. The Michael Gallup pass in San Francisco and the ball to Lance Lenoir in the same spot that Lenoir somehow let slip between his elbows. Both of these passes were located perfectly with the proper trajectory and distance, which is something that Jason Garrett talks about when evaluating quarterbacks that throw the deep ball with consistency.
· Duke Thomas made back-to-back plays during the young guy portion of "compete" period to get his defense off the field. Thomas managed to keep K.D. Cannon from making a reception to convert a third down. Then on the next play, he knocked down a pass intended for Ricky Jeune on the crossing route from Mike White by running with Jeune the entire way and allowing no separation.