SANTA CLARA, Calif. – It’s always a challenge to take notes when I’m on the radio call for these Cowboys’ preseason games, but I have fun trying.
There’s a lot to feel good about as we get ready to head back to Oxnard. The Cowboys lost the preseason debut, but there was some encouraging play and the team appeared to get out of the game relatively healthy.
Here are some thoughts from the radio booth at Levi’s Stadium:
· I thought it was a nice start for Dak Prescott. He took advantage of some creative use of personnel to smartly move the offense. For not much game planning, offensive coordinator Scott Linehan did a good job of keeping the 49ers off balance with his play calls. The balance between run and pass was outstanding and the fact that Prescott was able to finish off the drive with a long pass to Michael Gallup, an area where he had struggles in camp, was the perfect ending to the night for him.
· I keep liking what I’m seeing from Rod Smith as the backup to Ezekiel Elliott. Smith continues to show a physical running style when he needs to, but he also shows a great deal of patience, as well. His ability to catch the ball out of the backfield will also pay dividends going forward as Scott Linehan continues to develop the passing attack with these running backs.
· Jaylon Smith was able to carry over the things that we’ve seen in practice right to this game. His mobility, agility and finish were noticeable and continue to improve. The 49ers’ interior offensive line had a difficult time blocking him. Smith tends to be too aggressive and finds himself overrunning plays -- but not this evening. Smith played with body control, balance and that necessary consistency that this defense needs from the position.
· Tavon Austin as a downfield receiver is beginning to grow on me. I wasn’t completely sure how this was going to play out for him, but he appears to be more than just a “gadget” player. He has shown flashes in camp of being able to run routes that are not just from the slot but from the outside positions. With a healthy wrist and a new attitude, this front office might have made a trade that could give them a legitimate threat in the passing game.
· I am interested to go back and study this game to see how well Connor Williams played after allowing the sack to DeForest Buckner. Williams got a little aggressive when he set on Buckner, which caused his head to go down. Buckner hit him with the perfect move in that situation by going arm-over, which allowed him to attack Dak Prescott before he had a chance to escape. This is something that Williams will learn from, but I knew it had the potential to happen.
· Taco Charlton continues to grow in the position. As a rookie he lacked technique and an understanding for the position. His awareness to not get fooled on those boots and waggles that the 49ers attempted to his side were well defended on his part. As a rookie, he would have chased those plays inside and given up the edge but he played his assignments, forcing the 49ers quarterbacks into some poor passes.
· I was looking for some better defensive tackle play from this group and I got it from Datone Jones inside. Jones was disruptive throughout his time in the game. He attacked the gap with power and quickness, which made him difficult to handle.
· I was honestly surprised by how poorly Anthony Brown played while on the field. He had practiced well this past week, not only defending the ball in the air but stepping up and handling the run. It was disappointing what a struggle it was for him technique-wise. He didn’t put himself in position to make plays and he didn’t locate the ball well enough down the field. I thought that he had put his struggles with penalties behind him, but he reverted back to the issues that plagued him last season.
· Charvarius Ward and Donovan Olumba didn’t help themselves in their quest to make this roster. Like Brown, both of the rookies had practiced better than they played against the 49ers. Maybe I expected too much, but I was hopeful that one of them would step up and deliver -- especially down the stretch when this defense needed a play. But it just wasn’t meant to be. I will say that the interference call late on Olumba appeared to be a nice play knocking the ball away, but the official still made the call.
· Cooper Rush continues to prove that he is a gamer. He moved the offense when he was asked to do so and has taken ahold of this backup quarterback spot. Maybe the most impressive trait about Rush was his ability to not focus on the pass rush but keep his eyes down the field to find open receivers.
· I absolutely loved the call by Scott Linehan to put Trey Williams in the game to execute the “Texas” route on third down. At first, I thought he was going to call a screen to Williams, but when he burst to the outside then quickly cut to the inside against the linebacker in space, I knew the play had a chance. Mike White made a nice throw to put the ball in front of him in order for Williams to have a chance to secure the first down.
· I told Brad Sham during the broadcast that I thought this was the deepest group of Cowboys linebackers that I had seen in a while. Adding Joe Thomas gives me hope that if something were to happen to Sean Lee that this defense would not fall off the face of this Earth -- which is something I always worry about. His size and ability to cover ground is special, along with his ability to finish.