OXNARD, Calif. – As has become customary, Thursday's practice will be held early in the day, so we've got a short turnaround until the Cowboys are back on the field.
While we wait, here are my main notes from Wednesday evening's practice session, which saw some solid work from the depleted defensive line group.
- Some quality work by DeMarcus Lawrence and Maliek Collins on the twist stunt against La'el Collins and Zack Martin to generate some pressure on Dak Prescott. Lawrence was able to get such a push, it forced Collins and Martin to devote their full attention to stopping him. Once Maliek Collins saw Lawrence had occupied both blockers, he quickly took a tight path around the corner right into Prescott's face. The quarterback quickly unloaded the ball to the outside, where it was intercepted by Byron Jones.
- During the blitz period, it was the first time in these practices where we observed Cole Beasley and Ryan Switzer together in the same personnel group. When the offense broke the huddle, both Beasley and Switzer went to the same side of the field, working out of the slot. It was Beasley that Dak Prescott found underneath the coverage for a quick gain.
- With Sean Lee sitting out of practice on a veteran's rest day, we had a chance to see more Jaylon Smith. When Smith practices, it is usually as the second-team middle linebacker behind Anthony Hitchens. During the first snap of the play-action period, Smith was at the MIKE, with Hitchens on the weak side and Damien Wilson on the strong side. This was a look we had not seen during camp for the base defense. Garrett was asked on Tuesday about Smith playing other linebacker spots, but his answer made perfect sense in that until he practices more on a full-time basis, then it's important to get him comfortable at one spot.
- It's amazing how athletic Travis Frederick is when he pulls in space. Down blocks by James Hanna and Rico Gathers on DeMarcus Lawrence and Jaylon Smith were able to capture the edge. Frederick, from his center spot, opened to his right and -- almost like he was carrying the ball -- exploded around the corner to secure a block on Damien Wilson. The alley gave Ezekiel Elliott plenty of room to operate before a defender could even react to him.
- You have to respect a guy like Stephen Paea, who understands how technique works in this game. Every practice, I have watched defensive linemen attack Travis Frederick's off hand instead of his snapping hand. One of the most difficult things for a center to do, is to get his snapping hand up quickly to stop a rusher. Frederick is one of the best in the league when it comes to getting that hand up and in position. Where Paea was able to take advantage of Frederick was attacking that hand with a quick swim move, which Frederick was late reacting to. Once Paea was past Frederick, he had a clear path to Prescott for the pressure.
- David Irving has been running with the second unit at left defensive end behind DeMarcus Lawrence. Irving had been dealing with an ankle sprain, which has caused him to miss a few practices. It took Irving a few plays to get going, but he was back to being his disruptive self especially when he was on the inside charge when rushing the passer. He should have been credited with a sack of Kellen Moore in the end zone, when he forced Dan Skipper to put him in a choke hold to stop him. Later he was able to overpower La'el Collins for a pressure, as well. His length and upper body power is able to neutralize a blocker to the point where he is able to break them down -- which he was able to do on a consistent basis during practice.
- On Talkin' Cowboys, I mentioned the name Ross Burbank as a player that has practiced well but we haven't mentioned much at all. Burbank went to school at Virginia, spending time in the pros with Oakland and Seattle before landing in Dallas. He has primarily been working at center with the third unit, but during Wednesday's practice, he took a few snaps at right guard while Jonathan Cooper got some work at center. At 6-4, 300, he's not the stoutest of blockers, but his technique is good and he plays on his feet. You don't see him in trouble position-wise, and the shotgun snaps are in perfect spots. I don't see him making the 53-man roster out of camp, but I would be more than happy to keep him on the practice squad to give him more of an opportunity to develop. He has accounted for himself well.
- Earlier in my report, I mentioned the two-man game that DeMarcus Lawrence and Maliek Collins pulled off for a pressure that resulted in a turnover. Later in the practice, Collins again was part of a stunt -- but this time it was a three-man one. Collins and Damontre' Moore charged into Travis Frederick, Byron Bell and Zack Martin. With all three blockers dealing mainly with Collins, it allowed Stephen Paea to loop around the trash and into the path of Dak Prescott. Without much time to react, Prescott was forced to get the ball quickly to Cole Beasley as Paea was bearing down on him for the sack.
- I don't think that the strength of Xavier Woods is as a down player, in the box like Byron Jones. Where I believe his best chance to do some good is deep, where he can play with some range and help on the outside. He got bullied a little bit by Rico Gathers during the Compete Period, where he was giving away a lot of size. It was a tough cover, but I had seen him in the same situation in previous practices be able to pull it off. To his credit, he did make Gathers have to make a contested catch by extending his hands for the catch. Woods was swiping at it but just couldn't knock it free. Woods did come back later in the practice to rally on a ball that was thrown by Kellen Moore to Blake Jarwin that only resulted in a short gain.
- My favorite defensive play of the day was Stephen Paea dropping into coverage in the middle of the field and taking away Dak Prescott's underneath pass to Geoff Swaim. Paea managed to fit himself in coverage between Swaim and Jaylon Smith. From Prescott's perspective, he wanted to hit Swaim quickly -- but if he took that shot, he would have thrown the ball right the middle of Paea's chest. Instead, Prescott was forced to go in another direction to Cole Beasley for a shorter gain.