Scout's Notebook: Defensive Difference Makers


OXNARD, Calif. – Here are some points from a fantastic practice that saw a healthy amount of red zone and goal line work.

Here are my notes:

·      We continue to see Jaylon Smith being put in coverage situations and coming up big. Smith has been asked to carry receivers down the field as well as tight ends and running backs to the sideline, with no physical limitations or issues. His lateral agility and quickness have been impressive. One of his better snaps was when he had to carry Dalton Schultz across the field with a ton of space to deal with. Smith played the route perfectly, waiting until the just the right moment to put his hand in front of Schultz to bat Dak Prescott's pass to the ground.

·      Dak Prescott couldn't have put the ball in a better spot to Allen Hurns during the goal line period. Prescott broke to his left out of the pocket due to Randy Gregory being on his heels. Hurns, playing in the slot, managed to get rid of Anthony Brown and headed for the front pylon. The ball from Prescott was no more than a foot off the ground, which forced Hurns to go all the way to the ground and cradle it before he rolled out of the end zone.

·      Tremendous effort by Dorance Armstrong to get in the throwing lane in order to knock a Dak Prescott pass down to the ground. At first, Armstrong didn't know where the ball was. But after looking to the inside and the outside, he was able to spin away from Cameron Fleming, which put him in the necessary position to make the play.

·      DeMarcus Lawrence and Randy Gregory are already coming up with signals before the play, in order to better coordinate their pass rush. Lawrence looked down the line and made a motion with his hand toward Gregory, who acknowledged the signal. At the snap of the ball, both men fired off the ball and executed the exact same pass rush moves on La'el Collins and Cameron Fleming in attempt to get to Dak Prescott.

·       There was no tackling during the goal line period, but Chidobe Awuzie put a nice shoulder into Ezekiel Elliott. The move came with such force that it knocked Elliott to the ground. Kavon Frazier was there to help clean up the mess, but his assistance was unnecessary after the Awuzie hit.

·      Great effort from Geoff Swaim in an attempt to bring down a pass from over the top of Jaylon Smith. Swaim tried to hit Smith with the out and up, but Smith wasn't biting. Prescott put the ball in an area where only Swaim had a chance at it, but he could only get one foot down as Smith forced him out of bounds.

·      Chidobe Awuzie saved the game for the defense when he denied Dak Prescott's two-point pass attempt to Tavon Austin on the final play of practice. Awuzie was able to mirror Austin in the back of the end zone as Prescott scrambled to buy time. When Prescott finally set his feet, he delivered the ball in Austin's direction in hopes that he could come down with it. Instead, Awuzie drove into Austin, knocking the ball out of his hands to preserve the victory.

·      Nobody on this squad sells the moving pick route better than Terrance Williams. Tavon Austin was able to sneak into his route behind Williams, who kept Anthony Brown from hustling from the middle of the field to cover. Williams did a great job of running his route inside, but he did it in a way to alter his path at various points in order to rub out the defenders. After the play, Austin went over to Williams and gave him a fist bump for the job he did.

·      I have to admit: it has been a struggle for Jourdan Lewis in some of these practices. He had a mental mistake when he was in zone coverage and allowed Terrance Williams to come inside of him due to his drop being too wide. Lewis didn't feel Williams coming across and the result was a big pass completion from Cooper Rush.

·      When Connor Williams is in the pass rush drill, he generally has to face back-to-back rushers. What defenders have figured out when they rush Williams is simple, yet smart. For one of two reps, they have chosen to "bull rush" him – or attempt to overpower him, to put it bluntly. Datone Jones has done it with some success, as has Tyrone Crawford. But rushers haven't had as much success when it comes to the team periods, where the entire offensive and defensive lines are together. Williams has been able to hold his own in those situations, where there are bodies banging off each other. There is no question that Connor Williams needs to get stronger, but that will likely come after his rookie season. Until then we all need to be patient with him.