OXNARD, Calif. – The Cowboys are off on Friday, but hopefully this will tide you over while we wait to get back to work watching these practices.
Here are my top impressions from Thursday's morning practice:
- Defense is always looking for pressure and got it from an unlikely source. Stephen Paea was able to take advantage of Tyron Smith setting to far inside and was able to work around him on the outside, getting into Dak Prescott. With Paea near him, Prescott had to adjust his arm angle on his pass to Dez Bryant, which caused the ball to sail. Anthony Brown was in perfect position to intercept the errant pass and take it up the sideline and into the end zone.
- Better day for Nolan Carroll overall after struggling in coverage on Wednesday. He was matched up with Dez Bryant during one-on-one right from the get-go and was up to the task. Bryant tried to take Carroll up the field, then worked hard to the inside. Carroll was ready for him and was able to undercut the route and knocked the ball away from Bryant with a fine play. Carroll lined up across from Bryant two other times in the period and was able to hold his own by denying him the ball on each of those opportunities.
- Beautiful, extending catch by Ezekiel Elliott in one-on-one working against Anthony Hitchens. Elliott, working up the field, was able to lean on Hitchens, who was tight in coverage. Hitchens was in solid position to handle the route, but Elliott quickly broke to the outside and gained separation. Kellen Moore saw the separation and floated the ball over the top of Hitchens -- but it was too far up the field. Elliott was able to find the ball, then extend his hands over his head. Elliott somehow managed to get both hands on the ball before crashing to the ground.
- I haven't had much of an opportunity to write about Xavier Woods in these practices from a defensive standpoint during the team period. But he has flashed some coverage skill in other portions of practice. During Wednesday practice, he had a quality snap where he carried James Hanna in coverage, putting himself in position to knock the ball out of Hanna's hands. Coming back on Thursday, Woods was giving up size to Rico Gathers but was able to blanket him, as well. The coverage was so tight that Kellen Moore didn't even bother throwing the ball to Gathers, instead he skipped it into the ground at his feet.
- Finally observed Taco Charlton using a quality pass rush move when he went arm-over Emmett Cleary to generate a pressure. Charlton was able to set Cleary up by rushing hard to his inside, then throwing the arm over the top, all while shifting to the outside -- which was able to get him some separation. Charlton will learn that he needs to have a plan when working against these veteran tackles. Trying to overpower them doesn't always work. Hopefully when he sees himself on tape, he will understand that.
- During the 7-on-7 period, I might have been mistaken but it appeared that Rod Marinelli in his dime package was playing bracket coverage on Dez Bryant during a practice. Byron Jones was behind Bryant and Anthony Brown was in front. Dak Prescott made a risky throw in trying to fit the ball into Bryant before Brown could react, but he was unable to pull it off. Brown was positioned well and was able to knock the ball away.
- It was the first day of pads for Mark Nzeocha and he came up with a heck of an interception by reading Dak Prescott's eyes. During the 7-on-7 period, he was in a zone drop and saw Prescott turn his attention to his left to pick up the route that Brice Butler was running to that side. As Butler started to the inside, Nzeocha began to drift to his right. Prescott fired the ball in Butler's direction working against Anthony Brown, but Nzeocha moved himself into the throwing lane. The ball never got to Butler because Nzeocha reached up with both hands and snatched it out of the air.
- Always fun watching practice with former Cowboys great, Nate Newton, especially when the offensive and defensive lines get together. Nate pointed out an interesting trait that Jonathan Cooper has in his pass set. Cooper likes to mix things up in an attempt to throw the rusher off. One of the ways he does this is with a short set. What this technique entails, is instead of kicking away from the line of scrimmage -- he attacks the rusher on the line. It's used as an element of surprise. The theory is that you jolt the rusher and make him have to restart his rush. It's not something you want to do on all your snaps, but it makes the defender think a little bit pre-snap.
- Don't know too many NFL teams that throw screen passes to their fullback, but that happened in practice -- not once, but twice. Keith Smith is a talented receiver and this coaching staff is not afraid to use him all over the formation, even wide as a receiver.
- I have to give credit where credit is due and that was in the play of Orlando Scandrick. Giving up size to Dez Bryant during the Compete period, he fought Bryant down the entire length of the field and was able to knock the ball away from him in the air. Usually it ends badly for a corner when Bryant goes vertical to high-point the ball, but Scandrick didn't give up any ground nor did he allow Bryant to go over the top. His position was outstanding throughout the entire route.
- Just a reminder, I have a scouting report on newly signed running back, Ronnie Hillman on DallasCowboys.com so please check it out if you'd like to learn more about the player.