OXNARD, Calif. – Here are my notes from Saturday's practice, as the Cowboys got back to work following their preseason game against San Francisco.
· This is the first time we've seen Sean Lee with extensive practice time. His movement and lateral reactions appeared as if they were in midseason form. The offense tried to get the ball to the edge with Ezekiel Elliott – who was unable to, because Lee had taken a step to the right before Elliott made his move to get the handoff from Dak Prescott. Lee read the play quickly, and Travis Frederick and Connor Williams had no chance to get a body on him before he made the tackle.
· It's not often that you see Zack Martin get knocked off balance in the pass rush drill, but Tyrone Crawford was able to do that to him on Saturday. In a matchup of power against power, Crawford was able to use a rip move that brought Martin's feet together. With that limited base, Crawford felt Martin leaning on him -- then spun to the inside, throwing him to the ground with his right arm. Earlier in the drill, Crawford was able to deposit Connor Williams on his rear with a two-handed bull rush.
· Some interesting nickel rush combinations on Saturday. Dorance Armstrong lined up with the first defense in Tyrone Crawford's right end spot -- which means that Crawford kicked inside to play some tackle with Brian Price. Leighton Vander Esch took Sean Lee's spot and he saw work with Jaylon Smith. Crawford did a really nice job of occupying Travis Frederick and Zack Martin to the point where Martin couldn't get off that block in order to help La'el Collins, who had his hands full with DeMarcus Lawrence.
· Each day, my thought that Tavon Austin is a full-time wide receiver further cements itself. There is no question that Austin is capable of running routes on the outside, especially when he is doing it against Chidobe Awuzie. In watching his technique, Awuzie was fearful of Austin's speed and he wasn't going to let him run away from him. Austin used that fear to drive Awuzie off the ball, and when he felt he had just enough separation, he broke his route outside. Awuzie tried to recover but just couldn't get back quick enough to make it a contested play.
· Lance Lenoir Jr. continues to make plays for Dak Prescott. Lenoir appeared to want to take his route inside, but he felt Jaylon Smith's drop in the zone and just curled up to give Prescott a window to deliver the ball between Smith and Jeff Heath to keep the sticks moving.
· Nice trap block by Kadeem Edwards, pulling to his left to kick Damien Wilson wide. The block allowed Cameron Fleming to turn up behind him with Rod Smith in tow. Chaz Green was also able to pin Dorance Armstrong to the inside, which gave Smith the lane into the secondary. It was one of those nickel runs that Scott Linehan likes to use on third down.
· Much better job by Leighton Vander Esch playing off the block of Dustin Stanton on the move in order to capture Rod Smith in the backfield for a loss. Vander Esch was textbook, keeping his outside arm free while using his inside shoulder to deliver a blow to Stanton, knocking him off balance.
· Cooper Rush has shown in his short career that he doesn't make dumb mistakes with the ball -- but he had a poor one during team blitz period. Rush's initial problem came when Rod Smith got knocked back into his lap. At that point he should have pulled the ball, but instead he tried to still deliver a pass to Ricky Jeune across the middle. Rush couldn't step into his throw, which caused the ball to flutter off target and was easily picked off by Leighton Vander Esch.
· I have a ton of respect for Jeff Heath and how physical he is as a cover guy. They've asked him to become a box player with responsibilities of working against the tight ends. Geoff Swaim was a really good match for him Saturday. Swaim has had a really good camp, both as a blocker and as a pass catcher, and is positioning himself to be the first-team tight end. In their battle, Heath tried to grab Swaim off the line and actually had a hold of his jersey, but Swaim broke free with a nice swim move to gain separation. Heath fought back to gain position, then Swaim swam him again to work his way back to Prescott for the falling reception.
· Rico Gathers took advantage of a blown coverage by Donovan Olumba to find the end zone during red zone period. Gathers' route took him all the way across the formation as he looked for space. Justin March-Lillard initially had Gathers, but then he passed him off to Olumba. The problem here was instead of staying in his zone, he carried K.D. Cannon to the inside, leaving the goal line unguarded. Mike White, seeing Gathers in open space, just fired to ball to him for a walk-in touchdown.