FRISCO, Texas – There's no practice on Friday, but I've got plenty of thoughts about Thursday's practice and how it might affect this preseason game against the Oakland Raiders.
We always call this game the "dress rehearsal," and that will probably prove true again on Saturday, as the Cowboys' starters look to get their most extensive playing time of the preseason. But there will still be a lot of opportunities for the young players on this roster to show their stuff.
These are my notes from Thursday morning's practice, and how the Cowboys might approach this game:
- This defense has continued its trend of creating turnovers in practice. Kyle Wilber was the latest by knocking the ball out of Darren McFadden's hands as the offense was coming off the goal line. Wilber was able to play off of Jonathan Cooper's block, and with his left hand reach around McFadden before he had a chance to put the ball away.
- Nice awareness by Benson Mayowa not to be fooled on the bootleg by Dak Prescott. Mayowa did not get sucked inside on the play fake by Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott – and it was a good fake. Mayowa stayed true to his assignment by playing wide to his side, forcing Prescott to have to make a tough throw coming to his left. Prescott was unable to square his shoulders up and floated a weak pass between Dez Bryant and Jason Witten that resulted in an incompletion.
- Good for Kellen Moore, showing touch and fitting the ball over the top of Duke Thomas and right in front of Xavier Woods. Brice Butler got caught on the route in between moves but still managed to find the soft spot between the two defensive backs. Moore, reading the coverage all the way, gave Butler a catchable ball, which he was easily able to extend on down the sidelines.
- If Ezekiel Elliott is in fact going to miss games this season, the offense is especially going to miss his ability to pass protect. Elliott has a knack for being in the right place at the right time. A great example of this was when he was able to slide from his left to right in the backfield to pick up a "B" gap blitz from Anthony Hitchens. Elliott has a feel for how to make the transition from side to side without getting in the path of Dak Prescott delivering the ball. His technique and finish allowed Prescott the time to throw a strike to Dez Bryant for a first down.
- Jason Witten and Dak Prescott were able to take advantage of a blitzing Sean Lee and Anthony Hitchens when Benson Mayowa was forced to play in coverage. To Mayowa's credit, he was initially able to stay with Witten -- but that didn't last for long. Witten drove up the field on Mayowa, and as he turned his eyes to Prescott, Witten broke the route off to the outside, leaving Mayowa in a poor position to defend. Prescott had a simple pitch and catch without any difficulty.
- Good to see Ryan Switzer back on the practice field and working in more than just drills. To my eyes, it appears that he has his quickness back from the earlier practices of OTAs and minicamp when he first burst onto the scene. He took some team snaps and was also able to field some punts in his quest to at least play some snaps in that final preseason game against the Texans.
- Dez Bryant managed to draw a pass interference call on Anthony Brown, which I initially thought was a rough call to begin with. There was some fighting for positioning down the field but nothing too major on either side. As a matter of fact, after the play Bryant was getting up off the ground like nothing happened and only reacted after he saw the flag. What was interesting about the play was that there was a pretty good chance Orlando Scandrick was very close to sacking Dak Prescott on the slot blitz. Scandrick timed his blitz perfectly and was on Prescott in a hurry, but he pulled up at the end to stay off him. It was a bang-bang play that could have gone either way.
- With the offense down by two points and the clock moving, Jason Witten had a heads-up play to give them a chance to win the game with a field goal. Witten catches the ball underneath for a five-yard gain, moving the ball from the defense's 37 to the 32-yard line. What was unique about the play was that Witten was trapped in the middle of the field with no chance to get to the sideline. Realizing where he was on the field, he quickly dropped down to one knee giving himself up. With time still on the clock, the offense got to the line, set up and spiked the ball, allowing Dan Bailey to come on the field to win the game.
- As mentioned earlier, Xavier Woods was back on Thursday taking part in the full practice. Woods had not seen any substantial action since the Los Angeles Rams game, where he was all over the field that night. It appeared that Woods was moving around well and didn't have any lingering effects from the hamstring issues that plagued him recently. I don't believe he has practiced enough to play this weekend against the Raiders, but he should see action next week in Houston when the Cowboys take on the Texans.
- I am interested to see if Cooper Rush can finish off these next two preseason games and make this roster. He has put himself in position with his play to the point where many are talking about him in a potential backup role to Dak Prescott. His work with the second offense this week during practice was less than impressive as compared to previous weeks. He has forced some passes trying to make a play or two that I am sure he'd like to have back. Jerry Jones has described him as a "gamer" and up until this point, that's surely been true. Rush has faced pressure before as a college starter but it's nothing like the pressure that he's facing now to make this club.