OXNARD, Calif. – After the long layoff of the Hall of Fame weekend, it was nice to get back into the flow of training camp.
It felt almost like the Cowboys had never left town as they eased back into the grind of these daily practices here at the Residence Inn in Oxnard. There was definitely plenty to take note of, so here are my main impressions from the practice fields:
- Trainers are starting to work DeMarcus Lawrence back into practice on more of a full-time basis. Lawrence has worked a little more each day and he has yet to disappoint. It was good to see Lawrence hold his own against Tyron Smith during the one-on-ones on Monday, but it was during the team period where Lawrence was at his best. It's rare that anyone can get Smith off balance, but Lawrence was able to do just that with an impressive outside-inside rush, which left Smith reaching for air. Lawrence did a great job of setting up Smith by rushing hard to his outside and just when he transferred his weight to his left foot, Lawrence dove underneath him to the inside, avoiding Smith and setting up a clean run at Dak Prescott.
- The best linebackers in the league are able to play with their eyes and their hands. I always like to point out to my media friends that when you study linebackers, those are the traits you look for. In the case of Sean Lee, I have always admired the way he played with his eyes. During practice, he gave me an outstanding example of that. Before the ball was snapped, you could see Lee looking in the direct of Dez Bryant to his left. As a matter of fact, Lee's eyes never left that direction, as Bryant started in motion across the formation from right to left. Lee, sensing that Bryant was able to get the ball on the jet sweep, began working to his right, adjusting on the play. Once the ball was handed to Bryant, Lee was the first defender to recognize the play and the first to burst across the line of scrimmage in order to tag off before Bryant had the opportunity to turn the corner.
- Byron Jones continues to develop as one of the better cover men on this defense, regardless of position. Jones had a golden opportunity to pick off Dak Prescott during the 7-on-7 period while in coverage on Jason Witten. Prescott tried to fit the ball in to Witten on an out route in the flat, but he was a bit late in his decision to do so. Jones, reading the route the entire way, was able to undercut Witten's route to get both hands on the ball. Jones, who has worked on his ball skills all offseason, just wasn't able to bring the ball in to secure the interception and take it untouched for a score.
- Nice shot on the post pattern from Cooper Rush to Andy Jones during the 7-on-7 period. Jones managed to get between John Lotulelei and Marquez White as Rush was able to get the ball just over the top of the defenders. Jones was able to extend for the ball and cleanly secure it in his hands for a sizeable gain against some pretty tight coverage.
- The one thing I have learned about Luke McCown is that he might not get many snaps during practice, but the ones he does gets, he is not afraid to take a shot downfield. Rico Gathers was on a deep crossing route when McCown decided to see if he could hit him on a similar route to the one he ran for a touchdown in the Arizona game. With Kavon Frazier in coverage, McCown threw the ball just a bit too high and with too much pace for Gathers -- who could only get one hand on it. If McCown could have just taken a little off it, Gathers may have been able to make the play.
- Dak Prescott is a tremendous ball handler and it's not often that you see him make a mistake with the ball -- but that happened during the play action period. Prescott was trying to run a read-option to his left by working off Damontre' Moore. When Prescott put the ball in Ezekiel Elliott's stomach, it appeared that Moore was going to close down on Elliott and take the fake. Prescott, sensing this, pulled the ball from Elliott -- but Moore was too quick, adjusting on the play and wrapping up the quarterback for a loss. After the play you see could by the way that Prescott was reacting that he was disgusted at himself.
- I still don't know how he did it, but during the one-on-one period, Tyrone Crawford had a rush when he completely ducked the right hand punch of La'el Collins and went underneath him for a pressure. Collins has been having problems with his hand placement and Monday was no different. There just doesn't appear to be any real consistency with Collins and his hands. Some practices he holds them high and then the next, they're low around his thigh pads, which takes him time to get them into position. He just doesn't look comfortable right now and it affects the way he blocks.
- Not sure if this will hold true for the Los Angeles Rams game on Saturday, so keep an eye on it -- but we could see Byron Bell starting at left guard. Bell worked with the first unit in practice between Tyron Smith and Travis Frederick. Jonathan Cooper was the starter against the Cardinals last week and saw some action at center. It was the first time that he lined up at that spot since OTAs and minicamp. Both Cooper and Bell had their struggles in the Hall of Fame game, so that position is far from decided. Chaz Green was in full pads working with the strength coaches during practice so his return could be just around the corner from his shoulder injury. Green is the best of the lot but his injury history makes it difficult to rely on him.
- Here's my daily Taco Charlton thought from practice. He was much better during the one-on-one period rushing the passer than he was during team. I really liked what I observed when working with DeMarcus Lawrence on those combination rushes. He was playing inside as tackle with Lawrence on the outside at end. On one particular rush, he was able to free himself by snatching Byron Bell's pads and using a swim move to get around him. It wasn't forced and it was a clean, quick move that was effective. The next rush, he used power to split Kadeem Edwards and Byron Bell for a pressure. As long as he continues to try and work pass rush moves, I am encouraged that he will develop going forward.
- I made it a point to watch Ryan Switzer go through the individual portion of practice and he's made a great deal of progress from his hamstring injury. He was able to participate in all the receiver drills that Derek Dooley puts his players through. Switzer didn't appear to be favoring his left leg and was comfortable when it came to participating with his teammates. Dooley pulled him out of the practice when the defensive backs joined the receivers to work on releases off the line. With three practices left this week, I would expect that we will see Switzer receive more playing time as the trainers see fit.