Scout's Notebook: Red Zone Route Running, Maliek vs. Martin; More

OXNARD, Calif. – Obviously, it's going to take precedence any time one of this team's starters is injured.

The loss of Tyrone Crawford to an ankle injury impacted the back end of the Cowboys' practice on Tuesday, as it seemed to suck the energy off the field. I'll get into that a little bit, and thankfully it appears as though the injury might not be as bad as previously thought.

But there were plenty of other developments from the practice field on Tuesday, so let's get into that. Here are my notes:

  • Jason Witten continues to find space in the red zone during these practices. Working in tight quarters against Sean Lee, he was able to stay active while Dak Prescott was moving around in the pocket, searching for an open man. Prescott finally located Witten in the back of the end zone and fired a bullet in his direction. Witten, with not much time to react, took his hand and put it in the middle of Lee's chest to gain him a little separation. Witten then went up with both hands, secured the ball and managed somehow to get both feet down for the score.
  • One of the best reactionary athletes on this defense is Anthony Hitchens. The play he made to get in the throwing lane and tip the ball away from Dez Bryant was all due to his ability to react. On the play, Hitchens was playing in man coverage and sprinted to the flat to carry Keith Smith.  To his left, Bryant was running a slant, which is where Dak Prescott was attempting to go with the ball. Hitchens had the awareness to stick his hand in the air just as Bryant was crossing behind. The ball deflected off Hitchens and fell to the ground incomplete.
  • Love the way that Scott Linehan is handling these blitzes with his screen packages. In one instance, the offense caught the defense bringing both a cornerback and linebacker for pressure. Tyron Smith, Byron Bell and Travis Frederick allowed their men up the field along with the blitzers and began to work to the flat. Prescott fired the ball to Cole Beasley behind the line with Dez Bryant out front. Bryant wiped out Leon McFadden as Beasley worked in behind the convoy of linemen leading him down the field. It was a well-executed play at the exact right opportunity to be called.
  • The one-on-one pass rush drills have once again become interesting now that Malik Collins is back at practice. Collins is the one player that gives Zack Martin issues. When those two match up, it's usually 50-50 on who is going to win the battle. On Tuesday, Martin was able to get the best of Collins with two solid sets by neutralizing his power. Martin was able to get his hands quickly inside and just sit his weight down on the block in order to keep Collins for pushing him back.
  • Kellen Moore made a terrible decision during the play action period when he threw the ball late and behind Brian Brown, which resulted in a Kavon Frazier interception. On the play, Taco Charlton was able to free himself with a spin move against Kadeem Edwards, which forced Moore to flush to his left. Instead of throwing the ball away to the sideline, Moore passed the ball across his body and into the middle of the field. Brown had no chance for the reception as he tried to adjust back. Frazier, who was in better position than Brown, took the ball right in his numbers and didn't break stride up the field.
  • It's just unfortunate how Tyrone Crawford sprained his ankle during the final 10 minutes of practice. Crawford, who is always going to play with great effort, was chasing Ezekiel Elliott from one sideline to the other. Crawford initially managed to escape from Jason Witten and was heading toward Elliott, who then somehow reversed his field. Crawford planted his foot and reversed his along with Elliott. Crawford was now near Elliott and stumbled into Anthony Hitchens, which caused him to lose his balance as he is reaching for Elliott. Crawford's right foot stepped on the back of Elliott's foot, which caused Crawford's ankle to contort badly, resulting in the lateral sprain of the ankle.
  • Ezekiel Elliott is good as a pass blocker but not good enough to block two blitzers from different sides. Elliott got caught in that situation where both Orlando Scandrick and Chidobe Awuzie came off the edge. Elliott was lined up to the right of Dak Prescott, which is the side that Awuzie came from. Elliott took a look at Awuzie but made a dangerous decision to work underneath Prescott, crossing the pocket to attempt to pick up Scandrick off the left. Elliott tried to do the right thing by protecting Prescott's back side and taking Scandrick, but it was Awuzie that was able to get to Prescott and tag off before he was able to deliver the ball.
  • It's really amazing to see how well Cole Beasley is able to operate in the red zone. His short-area quickness and burst make him difficult to match especially when he slow plays off the line. Beasley was lined up behind Jason Witten in the slot. As Witten came off the ball, he was able to clear out Lee and Awuzie. With space in hand, that left Beasley one-on-one with Leon McFadden. Beasley made a direct path to the flat and then the goal line, leaving McFadden in his wake. Prescott threw Beasley a perfect pass as he was able to secure it and sneak it across the line just ahead of a driving McFadden.
  • I would have liked to see Rico Gathers use both of his hands to catch a ball from Dak Prescott during the 7-on-7 period in the red zone. It appeared that Gathers had a little separation on Byron Jones, who was playing underneath him. But when the pass from Prescott arrived, he went for an Odell Beckham Jr. style of catch, putting one hand in the air. The ball was in a spot where Gathers had a chance to make a tremendous play, but by going with only the one hand, he gave himself no chance to catch the ball. We've seen him make those two-handed, adjusting catches in practices and games but this was a missed opportunity.
  • No practice for Jaylon Smith on Tuesday, but he will be back on the field Wednesday. I believe we're getting close to the day when we'll see Smith playing in one of these upcoming preseason games -- but I just don't feel like it will be this week against the Los Angeles Rams. The medical staff continues to have a plan for him and they're sticking to it as long as he makes progress, which to this point he has.              

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