OXNARD, Calif. –This is an important period of training camp, particularly for the young guys.
By the end of this week, the Cowboys will be back in Dallas for the remainder of the preseason. After almost a month in California, it feels like things are coming to a close. As Cowboys coach Jason Garrett pointed out on Monday, though, that's far from the case.
There are still three weeks of training camp, highlighted by three more preseason games to play. There's a lot of football left before the regular season – particularly for the guys who are fighting to make this team. That's worth keeping in mind as this final week of practices on the West Coast gets into gear.
Here are my notes from the Cowboys' Monday evening practice:
- It appears that Jason Witten is already in midseason form by coming up with a tremendous one-handed catch during team period. Witten, working against Anthony Hitchens across the field, really didn't have much room. Dak Prescott made the only throw he could have, which was wide and up the field. Witten extended his left hand and was able to tip the ball back to himself. Hitchens tried to do his best to swipe at the ball but once Witten was able to secure it, there was nothing he could do.
- The more that Dez Bryant practices in the slot, the more comfortable he appears in executing routes from there. Bryant lined up in a trips look with Cole Beasley inside and Terrance Williams on the outside. Bryant had the harder of the coverage with Orlando Scandrick over the top. Bryant was able to get access into the route when Scandrick choose to play him with some cushion. Once Prescott saw Bryant break behind Beasley inside, he knew where he was going with the ball. There was little that Scandrick could do on the play as the ball was in a perfect spot for Bryant to snatch.
- Give credit to Mark Nzeocha and Lewis Neal for occupying Ross Burbank, Kadeem Edwards and Emmett Cleary in order to create a sack for Jaylon Smith. It was the first time in the camp where we observed Smith getting home on any type of a rush. Nzeocha and Neal did such a good job that Smith went untouched through the "B" gap and was on Kellen Moore before he had a chance to react.
- I had a feeling that something was up when Dak Prescott looked in the direction of Dez Bryant, giving him a signal with his hand. At the snap, Bryant attempted to run up the sideline and wide, working against Nolan Carroll, who was step for step with him. With protection in front of him, Prescott attempted to float the ball to the outside toward Bryant. Carroll, playing underneath Bryant, was in better shape to grab the ball as it was under thrown. There was too much separation between them -- which gave Bryant no opportunity to make a play on the ball or knock it away.
- Nate Newton and I got a kick out of watching Maliek Collins try and head fake Zack Martin on a pass rush during team period. Collins is known for his moves and this one would have worked if it was any blocker but Martin. As Martin dropped, Collins turned his head away for just a second, making it look like he was going to spin. Martin was not fooled and continued to wait on Collins to rush. When he saw Martin not take the bait, he had no choice but to try and attack, but it was too late as the ball left Prescott's hand.
- We usually see Jason Witten with the trap blocks on the edge. During Monday's practice it was Geoff Swaim's turn to play the role as "stunt man." It's never a favorite block for a tight end because it's a long block to execute across the formation and it generally takes place blocking a down lineman. If the tight end does it the right way, it can be done with an element of surprise. Swaim was able to trap, Damontre' Moore and then later David Irving, which allowed the running backs some space to run inside.
- The team had to be pleased to have both Tyron Smith and Chaz Green back at practice working. Green was backing up Smith at left tackle, which allowed Emmett Cleary to kick inside and get some snaps at guard. Smith and Green didn't appear to be struggling with any issues as they worked. Both the strength and technique was good along with their movement. Both had solid reps in one-on-one and were able to carry that over into the team periods, where they received more extensive work.
- Noah Brown is really making a push in these practices to separate himself from Andy Jones. Brown continues to catch the ball well and is seeing work on the special teams units. His route against Leon McFadden during Compete Period was well-executed by taking his left hand and physically clubbing McFadden out of the way so he could gain separation inside. I don't see Jones going away in this battle with three more games to play, but it has been difficult not to notice Brown here of late.
- Jason Garrett said that Alfred Morris is doing a much better job of becoming a pass receiver, which has allowed him to become more of a complete player. Morris had a nice victory against Mark Nzeocha while working in the flat. Nzeocha was able to stay with Morris but never turned his eyes to look for the ball. Morris took advantage of the miscue and when the ball came his direction, he extended his hands to make the reception before Nzeocha had a chance to react.
- I haven't had many opportunities to talk about rookie Woody Baron but Monday was a good practice for him. He was able to pull off a couple of impressive pass rush moves during the one-on-one and team period with some quickness. He defeated Kadeem Edwards with an arm-over move that left him badly off balance. Then he got Clay DeBord on an inside move which left him grasping at air.