FRISCO, Texas – Just like that, we're all done.
Thursday capped off the Cowboys' third practice of this week, their 12th overall practice of the spring and their final day of the offseason program. Maybe I'm biased because it was the final day, but I thought this was one of the most fascinating and competitive practices we've seen this year.
There was a lot to like in a lot of different places on the practice fields today. Knowing they had a five-week break on the horizon, it felt like the offense and the defense put their best feet forward during this last outing of the spring.
Here's what impressed me Thursday at The Star:
- Jaylon Smith had his first experience of what it's like to have to defend Jason Witten in the red zone on Thursday. Smith opened to his right on his drop with Witten working to his left toward the middle of the field and away from safety Robert Blanton. Kellen Moore, from the middle of the pocket, saw Smith turned and the positioning of Blanton, and he knew exactly where he to go with the ball. As Witten neared the goal line, Smith flipped his body to face Witten, but he was a step too late and the ball hit Witten squarely in the hands for the touchdown.
- For years we've seen Dez Bryant run fade routes on the goal line with tremendous success --which I am sure was running through the mind of Chidobe Awuzie as he lined up across from Bryant. This time Bryant had a new wrinkle for the rookie. Instead of going wide off the snap, Bryant went hard to the inside, which caused Awuzie to try and cut him off. When Bryant felt Awuzie's weight transfer, he broke for the corner. To Awuzie's credit, he planted and rallied to chase Bryant. Without much separation, Dak Prescott was able to float the ball to a spot where Bryant went up with both hands and snatched it out of the air before Awuzie had a chance to swat at it.
- Sneaky route by Brice Butler in the red zone off a well-designed play by Scott Linehan. Butler, lined up tight left, drove hard across the field. Coming from the opposite direction were Noah Brown and Connor Hamlett, creating a traffic jam of bodies. Butler managed to get through the mess to settle right over the top of the ball, creating an easy pitch and catch for Kellen Moore.
- Anthony Brown was outstanding in these minicamp practices. His positioning on these routes has been text book. It doesn't matter whether he's carrying Dez Bryant or Terrance Williams, he's been in position to knock passes away. Williams tried to run a fade on him during 7-on-7 and Brown would have none of that. What was most impressive about the play was that Brown managed to stay off Williams without looking for the ball. Once Williams' hands went up, he extended his hands, causing Williams to juggle the pass. Once Williams regained the ball, both of his feet were out of bounds.
- A trait that Dak Prescott doesn't get enough credit for is his ball handling. During the period where the team was working on the last four minutes of gameplay, it was Prescott's fake to Ezekiel Elliott that caused a blitzing Byron Jones to crash hard down to the inside. With Jones taking the bait, Prescott pivoted back to his right and flipped a nifty little pass to Jason Witten for a nice gain on first down -- all while keeping the clock running.
- I can't say enough about the way Anthony Hitchens has performed in these practices. He made a play on Ezekiel Elliott in space that saved the defense during the four-minute drill. Elliott came screaming out of the backfield, going right to left, before any defender had a chance to react. With how quickly he got open, I am surprised that Hitchens even had a chance to rally toward him. Prescott floated the ball in Elliott's direction and he made the reception -- but before he could get six yards up the field, Hitchens tagged off for the tackle. What could have been a huge, back-breaking play instead put the offense in a 3rd-and-4 situation. The defense held, forcing a punt.
- Taco Charlton has been seeing snaps at both left and right end during these practices. If you ask me, his best rushes have been off the left side. Twice, he was able to force Dan Skipper into penalties that put the offense in a hole. It has been difficult for Charlton to get any type of traction against Tyron Smith, but he has struggled against backups on that right side, as well. The last two days at left end, he just looks more natural and comfortable in the way he rushes.
- I love the effort by newly-signed Lance Lenoir to get noticed in these practices. Lenior came up with a heck of a diving catch during 7-on-7, but he just couldn't get his feet down quick enough to get the call. If Zac Dysert put the ball a little more inside, Lenior would've had no problem and it's a touchdown.
- I've written a bunch about Chidobe Awuzie and Jourdan Lewis, but not much about the other rookie, Marquez White. It was White's turn to show up and break up a pass to Lance Lenoir in the end zone. Lenoir, coming from right to left, tried to separate from White but didn't have much success. White, trailing Lenoir, managed to drive on the ball and without going through him, got his left arm around Lenoir to knock the pass away. It prevented what would have been a sure touchdown.
- I don't know if it had to do anything with missing practice time with his illness, but it was a tough day for Rico Gathers. During the Team Period of practice, Gathers missed a blitz pickup that got Kellen Moore sacked. Tight Ends coach Steve Loney wasn't at all happy with the bust and sent Gathers off the field. Gathers, mad at himself, slammed his helmet to the turf in disgust. These are the types of mistakes that coaches don't tolerate, and they will not put players that make them on the field – especially if they are mistakes that potentially will get the quarterback hurt.
- I like what I am seeing from Byron Jones in coverage. Playing in the slot, Jones didn't let Brice Butler bully him coming off the line and was able to stand his ground. Butler tried to push off for position but it didn't work – Jones was able to knock the Prescott pass away, which allowed the defense to get off the field.
- Cedric Thornton had a good spin move on Chaz Green on a 3rd-and-2 run by Ezekiel Elliott to capture him for a tackle for loss. Green completely whiffed coming off the ball and Thornton's move was the reason why. Thornton will go into camp as the starter at the one-technique. With more plays like that, there is a good chance of him holding onto that job.