FRISCO, Texas –Two practices down, two more two go until the Cowboys go through their "dress rehearsal" preseason game against the Oakland Raiders.
Here are my notes from Tuesday afternoon's practice at The Star:
- Cooper Rush learned a valuable lesson on ball placement when throwing a fade in the red zone. Rush had Brice Butler working against Duke Thomas but threw the ball too flat instead of putting some air under it. Thomas was able to knock the ball up in the air and into the waiting hands of Kennan Gilchrist to end the drive. After the play, I noticed Dak Prescott telling Rush that he's got to put the ball up where his receiver can go get it.
- How important is a good running game for play action passes? Dak Prescott faked an inside handoff to Ezekiel Elliott that drew Anthony Hitchens and Byron Jones to the line of scrimmage. Once Prescott saw the two defenders commit forward, he fired the ball inside to Jason Witten, who had tucked himself behind the coverage, for the touchdown.
- Luke McCown hasn't had many opportunities, but he was able to take advantage of a few snaps during the team period. McCown threw a beautiful fade with touch to Lance Lenoir in the corner of the end zone working against Dejaun Butler. Lenoir went full extension on the play while tracking the ball into his hands for the touchdown.
- I noticed that Jaylon Smith took on a blocker and ball carrier where he had both feet planted on the ground in a power position. He took on the block of Jonathan Cooper with his left shoulder and disengaged. Then, he finished the tackle on Darren McFadden with his right shoulder with power. Initially, he would take blockers on, but he would lift his left leg up off the ground, making himself a one legged player. I believe he is starting to show some confidence in that foot and how it will hold up.
- In his six-year NFL career, I don't believe I had ever seen Cole Beasley catch a fade in the end zone until practice on Tuesday. I was more surprised that Dak Prescott went ahead with the throw, given that Beasley is not normally the man you would throw a jump ball to -- but that's exactly what he did. Beasley, working against Anthony Brown, managed to get behind him for a brief second as Prescott let the ball go. Beasley was able to track it all the way and extended over the top of Brown. Like he was grabbing a rebound, Beasley was able to secure the ball with both hands and somehow get both feet in bounds for the touchdown.
- Dak Prescott in this camp has not been afraid to take a chance or two with the ball. On one particular play in the red zone, I believe Prescott wanted to fire the ball in the flat to Jason Witten, but he saw Byron Jones in coverage and thought better of it. Witten had worked into the end zone, but Jones was in position to make it a tight window throw. Prescott instead pulled the ball down and waited for Dez Bryant to cross over in the back of the end zone. The amount of time that Prescott held the ball led me to believe that he might have been close to getting sacked.
- There is no question that Orlando Scandrick is one of the smartest players on this defense. His ability to read formations and routes serves him well in pass defense. The offense attempted to run a screen pass to Terrance Williams with Scandrick in man coverage. Williams went across the formation with Scandrick in tow. By the time Williams got to the other side of the formation, Scandrick knew he was getting the screen to his side. Scandrick was able to duck under a block from Dez Bryant and make the tackle. To make matters worse, Bryant had to grab Scandrick to keep him from making the play. Bryant was called for holding and the defense got a stop.
- Heads up play by Jeff Heath in team compete period to deny Jason Witten the ball with only a few seconds left on the clock. Prescott tried to hit Witten along the sideline to get a few extra yards for Dan Bailey to kick the game-tying field goal. It was a play that we've seen throughout Witten's career, where he runs to the flat looking for the ball quickly to get out bounds to save time. Heath recognized the play and jumped the route, forcing Dak Prescott to have to throw the ball into ground to stop the clock. Bailey lined up for a field goal that would have been 55 yards, but he did not go through with the kick.
- On Twitter, my buddy David Helman put out his three most underrated players for the Cowboys. His top three were Anthony Hitchens, Chris Jones and Byron Jones. I honestly see nothing wrong with this and would say he has the right names. Where I might disagree with him is exchanging Byron Jones for James Hanna. There is nothing overall flashy about the way Hanna plays. He is a stunt man, and by this I mean that he does all the dirty work that no one else wants to do. Every team needs a James Hanna on their roster, whether it's as a blocker or core special teamer. Hanna often doesn't say two words but turn on the tape and you know he's there.
- The one-on-one period between the receivers and cornerbacks has been hard to watch these last two days. The receivers are at full strength, while the cornerbacks are not. I am sure the fans that are attending these practices are walking away with the idea that this secondary is in trouble from what they've seen. To be honest, they are in trouble depth-wise, especially matched up with the group they're facing. It's a unit that needs more Anthony Brown, Jourdan Lewis, Chidobe Awuzie and less ...well, you get my picture. Injuries have robbed these coaches and scouts an opportunity to really evaluate their situation in the secondary, especially at cornerback.