Scout's Notebook: Russell Holds His Own, Tapper Shines; Other Thoughts

OXNARD, Calif. – The pads finally came on, and I wasn't disappointed by what we got to see.

It was a physical, hard-fought practice to start off our venture through 2016 training camp, and I came away with quite a few impressions – particularly about this defense.

Here's a few big thoughts I had while I was watching practice this afternoon:

  • The player with the most difficult job in camp has to be Ryan Russell. No matter how hard he tries, there are going to be snaps where he just isn't going to look good going against Tyron Smith. I thought Russell did a much better job of getting off the ball in this practice than I had seen in the previous two, and if he was working against anyone but Smith he would have had more pressure. I like what he was able to do against Smith by holding the point of attack in the running game. It took every ounce of strength he had but he did not allow Smith to maul him off the ball.
  • There is no question that Ezekiel Elliott shows a willingness to be a factor in blitz pickup. He got a face full of Sean Lee and was no worse for wear. Where Elliott has to be careful is when he crosses in front of Romo in the pocket. I noticed that it happened on the first day of practice and again today in the Team Compete Period. Elliott drifted into Romo as he tried to deliver the ball to the outside. The rookie will get a better feel with snaps where he needs to set up, which will allow Romo a clear path to deliver the ball.
  • Before you roll your eyes as you read these words – Morris Claiborne had a really nice day at the office. He was on a mission and it started from the opening snap that he took against Terrance Williams during 1-on-1. Williams tried to push off Claiborne to get inside, but Claiborne never allowed him to separate across the field. As Romo let the ball fly, Claiborne had worked his hand under Williams' right arm and between his hands. The ball never made it to Williams, as Claiborne was able to knock it to the turf. Later in the same period, Claiborne was in a battle down the field with Dez Bryant with both players trying to hold each other off. Claiborne once again was in outstanding position as the ball landed too far up the field for Bryant to catch.
  • Without Tyrone Crawford in the lineup, Terrell McClain lined up at the under-tackle while Cedric Thornton was at nose. I thought this was a pretty nice combination, especially from what I observed during the Inside Run Period. The defense knows that every play is going to be some type of a run, so they can pin their ears back and get up the field. McClain and Thornton were able to do just that -- but what made it impressive was that they were able to accomplish that against Travis Frederick, Zack Martin and La'el Collins. McClain and Thornton were difficult to handle each snap they took -- maybe a better word is disruptive. Frederick had a hard time moving Thornton, who was able to match him power for power.
  • Charles Tapper looked like an edge rusher in this practice. There were several snaps in 1-on-1 where he was off the ball before the tackle had a chance to react. What was even more impressive was the way Tapper was able to finish his rush. He showed power, along with pass rush moves (spin) in order to free himself to get to the level of the quarterback. Tapper was also able to get up the field in the running game, where he had a tackle for loss during Team Period and was able to later retrace his steps in order to get back to the ball.
  • Here's a player that I knew little about but jumped out at me during practice: Isaiah Frey. Todd Archer from ESPN and I were talking about him this morning during the walkthrough and to his credit, he showed up. Frey is listed as a cornerback, but it appears that they are trying him as a safety right now. At 6-0, 205 pounds, he has good size, so that is not a reach for the position. Where I first noticed him was in coverage during the 1-on-1 with the tight ends, where he finished well on a play. But where he really stood out was in the Blue Period for the younger guys, where he was in coverage on Austin Traylor. Traylor tried to run to the flat but couldn't get separation on Frey. Dak Prescott tried his best to fit the ball into him, but Frey was able to extend his left arm and knock it away
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