FRISCO, Texas – There was a lot going on at AT&T Stadium on Thursday night, and football wasn't close to being the most important part of it.
But while Cowboys players and officials held a telethon to raise money for Hurricane Harvey relief, yours truly had a fantastic view of what we'll call the final practice of training camp – for real this time. Alongside Mickey Spagnola, I had a great view of the proceedings from the AT&T Stadium television booth.
Here are my notes from practice:
- Two rookies going at it in practice with Ryan Switzer getting the best of Xavier Woods a couple of different times. Switzer's best play of the night came on an extended catch during red zone period. Switzer drove hard to the inside with Woods on his back. Kellen Moore had no choice but to attempt to throw the ball wide due to the coverage. Switzer managed to put both hands in the air and bring the pass in before Woods took him to the ground.
- Cooper Rush continues to impress, hitting a back shoulder throw to Uzoma Nwachukwu for a touchdown during team period. Nwachukwu went vertical on Marquez White in the corner of the end zone. While Nwachukwu was able to locate the ball, White wasn't – so Nwachukwu was able to adjust back to it. The ball ended up on Nwachukwu's right shoulder, where he was able to get both hands on it for the score.
- Marquez White fought back later on with a clean breakup of a pass to Karel Hamilton -- who tried to get him on a curl route inside. As Hamilton squared for the ball, White played over the top of his left shoulder, stayed off the receiver and knocked the ball to the ground with his left hand. Textbook play and technique by the rookie cornerback.
- It took a blitz pickup from Rod Smith, but Kellen Moore was able to find Uzoma Nwachukwu on a drag route with Chidobe Awuzie in tow. Awuzie had been called for defensive holding on the previous play, but this didn't stop his aggressiveness. Nwachukwu had to once again extend his hands in order to keep Awuzie from knocking the ball away. It was a fine reception on a tightly contested ball.
- Lewis Neal managed a quick swim move around Byron Bell to force Cooper Rush to have to unload the ball. Rush was trying to bootleg to his right from the shadow of his own goal post, but he had to deal with Neal right off the snap. Rush had no choice but throw the ball away or take the safety and he wisely got rid of the ball.
- The play action package to the tight ends in the red zone continues to be a money maker. We've seen Dak Prescott and Jason Witten hook up several times during practice and games. Cooper Rush was able to take advantage of an aggressive Lamar Louis to get the ball to Blake Jarwin. Louis, the Cowboys' new linebacker signing, bit hard on the play fake, drawing him out of position. Jarwin managed to work inside of Kavon Frazier. With that void, Rush was able to easily fit the ball in to Jarwin uncontested for the touchdown.
- Something you don't see often in practice is a pressure from Richard Ash, but that occurred Thursday night. Ash worked himself free in a three-man game with Joey Ivie and Woody Baron, coming right to left. Ivie and Baron drove hard inside and were able to wad up the blockers. Ash took advantage of the situation and had a clear run at Kellen Moore. The play forced Moore to unload the ball to prevent the sack.
- Didn't know much at all of newly-signed running back Brandon Brown-Dukes, but in his short work during practice he made an impression. With Gary Brown basically telling him what to do each play in the huddle, Brown-Dukes worked his way through the night. Brown-Dukes was listed as a 4.68 guy coming out of Mercyhurst College, but he looked much quicker than that. His jump cut in the hole during red zone period caught my attention. With really nowhere to go, he managed to create some space behind blocks of Joe Looney and Nate Theaker. Brown-Dukes was able to avoid Lamar Louis, as well, to turn nothing into something with an impressive move.
- I'm surprised that Andy Jones faded the way he did down the stretch. I thought there was going to be a battle with him and Noah Brown, but it didn't happen. Brown was able to elevate his game while Jones struggled with injuries, which caused him to miss time. During this practice, Jones dropped a perfectly thrown slant from Kellen Moore for no reason other than a lack of concentration. Jones had his chances to make plays but much like the previous season, a dropped pass here and there will likely seal his fate. His best hope will be the practice squad, but with other young receivers showing up during camp, that might not be a given, either.
- With all the questions surrounding the left guard spot, keep an eye on Joe Looney. I believe that Jonathan Cooper will be the opening day starter against the New York Giants, but Looney will likely be called in if Cooper struggles. During the practice, Looney played both guard spots along with some center. Looney might not have the athletic ability of Chaz Green or the power of Jonathan Cooper, but he doesn't make mental mistakes and he finds ways to finish his blocks.