FRISCO, Texas – It's fun to see the way this team has already progressed over the span of a few weeks of practices.
The Cowboys finished their last OTA practice on Wednesday. They still have three days of minicamp to go, but they've officially gone through nine OTAs – giving us plenty of opportunity to see how everything has developed.
Here are my top impressions from Wednesday's work:
- It was the first opportunity for us to see Jaylon Smith work on the field with the defense other than just drills. Smith was part of the 9-on-9 or Half Line portion of practice. Working at middle linebacker with a combination second-and-third team personnel, he had four snaps where he was required to zone drop then drive and then one where he was in man coverage. It appeared that he was tested two different times. Once when tight end M.J. McFarland came into his area and broke to the outside, causing Smith to have to reach up with his right hand to tug on McFarland. The official in the end zone made no call – so he caught a break. The other time, Alfred Morris flared out of the backfield and broke hard to his outside. From a complete stop, Smith was forced to burst off his right (non-injured) leg to cover the ground in order to cut Morris off. To Smith's credit, there was not much separation between the two.
- The coaches continue to look at all options at left guard while La'el Collins continues to work at right tackle. Today it was Chaz Green's opportunity to work with the first offensive line. As expected, Green was a little up and down. For the most part his movement was good, as was his pop. Where he did have issues was with his balance. Maliek Collins was able to capture the corner on him when he lunged out of set, which caused Dak Prescott to have to flush. He was also overextended coming off a combo block with Travis Frederick and he completely whiffed trying to block Anthony Hitchens.
- During 9-on-9, Terrance Williams executed a sweet clearing route that allowed Ezekiel Elliott to sneak out of the backfield and up the field for a touchdown reception. Williams, running hard caused Jeff Heath to focus on him instead of seeing Elliott. By the time Heath turned around, Elliott had broken to the outside and was standing in the end zone waiting for the ball from Dak Prescott. Sean Lee tried to rally late but just couldn't get over to make the play.
- Veteran linebacker John Lotulelei took a ton of snaps in this practice. Lotulelei usually runs with the second defense, but not only did he take those snaps, he also got some with the first defense in place of Sean Lee. I mentioned Lotulelei this week in one of our mailbags as a player that found ways to show up during practice. He doesn't have ideal height, but he makes up for that with his ability to run. He is an aware player so when he sees it, he can cover some ground. The coaches had him doing some rushing as well from his linebacker spot.
- Talk about two athletes on the right side of that offensive line with Zack Martin and La'el Collins. Both pulled to their right on a hand off to Ezekiel Elliott and you would have sworn that it was a mirror. Their technique was the exact same coming off the ball and it caught the defenders off guard on the second level with how quick they were to the outside. All Elliott had to do was tuck right in behind them and ride the wave.
- Really nicely-timed blitz by Kavon Frazier that beat M.J. McFarland to the inside, which resulted in a tackle for loss on Rod Smith. Later in the series, Xavier Woods ran the same blitz and was left unblocked, which resulted in another negative rush for Smith.
- It doesn't happen often when working against Tyron Smith, but give Damontre Moore some credit for the jump that he got off the snap to beat Smith around the corner for a sack. Moore was able to time it perfectly and was up the field as Smith was scrambling out of his stance with no chance to defend. Moore has been the one end that understands that to have any type of success against Smith, you can't let him get his hands on you. Moore will duck, dodge and dive on his rushes to give himself a chance.
- I don't know if it was a great play by Anthony Brown or a bad drop by Terrance Williams? It appeared that a throw by Dak Prescott in the 9-on-9 period hit Williams between the 8 and the 3 on his jersey. I also noticed that Brown was battling him down the field and when the ball arrived, he was right there. It appeared that Brown might have got his hand in there. Once the ball hit the ground, Williams was looking for a flag, but with the official standing on the spot – there was no call.
- Ryan Switzer continues to make plays when given the opportunity. He managed to pull a ball off the turf from Kellen Moore that didn't have much on it due to a high snap. Once Moore pulled the ball down and rolled to his left, Switzer was already outside toward the sideline. Moore flung the ball in his direction and somehow he was able to get his hands underneath it just beyond the sticks for a first down.
- Catch of the Day came from Brice Butler on a slant where he totally exploded away from Leon McFadden. When Butler pushed off his right foot at the top of the route, McFadden had no chance. Kellen Moore threw a dart as Butler snatched the ball on the move. I thought this was another one of those practices where Butler showed up, proving that he's not going away quietly. Someone is going to have to take his job.
- Strange sight during the practice was seeing guys like Dez Bryant and Jason Witten mixed in with the second and third groups taking snaps. Usually those two are exclusively with the first group, so it must have been a different experience for those young guys in the huddle to see them standing there then executing plays.
- Kick off returners during practice: Ryan Switzer, Jourdan Lewis, Brian Brown. After practice punt returners: Switzer and Lewis.