Scout's Notebook: Young Defenders Impress At First Padded Practice

OXNARD, Calif. – We finally got to watch some contact football on Wednesday evening, and it did not disappoint.

The two-hour session featured plenty worth getting excited about, as well as plenty we'll need to keep an eye on going forward. It was a fun start, but it's just the beginning as we start down this road toward roster cuts.

Here's what stood out from my vantage point:

  • A day the players dread and the scout's love -- full pads. Up until this point it was about evaluating player athletic ability and movement, but when the pads come on it's a whole different ball game. You now get the physical aspect and what a player might lack in athletic skill, you see that with strength and power in which the game is played with.
  • I continue to be impressed with the manner in which Dak Prescott is throwing the ball. He made several nice tight window throws that had little margin for error. On one of those throws, he hit Terrance Williams on a slant in between Nolan Carroll and a driving Byron Jones with inches to spare. Nine times out of 10, Jones is knocking that ball down – instead, he's slapping the turf in disgust.
  • It was a close battle to see who was the best offensive lineman in practice. In the one-on-one drills, both Tyron Smith and Zack Martin were outstanding. Both are so technique-sound it's difficult for the defender to gain any type of an advantage. The combination of hands and footwork along with their upper body power neutralizes rushers instantly. It's difficult for a defender to get them off balance or overextended, which is how the good pass rushers win.
  • With no Darren McFadden at practice, Alfred Morris was the primary backup to Ezekiel Elliott and looked the best off all the backs, including Elliott. Morris was able to find space in the line when things appeared a little muddy. His vision and ability to slash with quickness was put on full display during the team's play action period, where he took the ball inside and then with a burst came out the other side into the second level. He also had a nice reception in the flat, working up the field. He also stepped up to help pick up a blitz during team period.
  • Maliek Collins was a beast inside until he suffered a hip flexor injury that doesn't appear to be serious at this time. During play action period, he showed some nice quickness in closing down the line to shut down the hole before Ezekiel Elliott had a chance to get through. He later got up the field on a boot by Dak Prescott, which forced Prescott wide to have to make a tough throw to Geoff Swaim  --who had the ball glance off his hands and fall incomplete.
  • Anthony Hitchens was constantly around the ball in this practice. If he is left unblocked, he is going to make a ton of tackles. The offensive line had a tough time getting a hat on him and he was able to do just that. He had an impressive snap, where he was able to scrap all the way from his middle linebacker position to his left, beating La'el Collins to the outside to make the stop on Ezekiel Elliott. Hitchens was able to quickly work his way through the trash, then positioning himself right where he needed to be for the tackle.
  • The defense did an outstanding job of creating turnovers during practice. Chidobe Awuzie's tip ball interception against Brice Butler off a slant was well played, but Darnell Leslie swiping the ball from Blake Jarwin had Matt Eberflus the most excited. On the play, Jarwin ran a little curl inside with Leslie slightly upfield in coverage. Kellen Moore tried to fit the ball inside to Jarwin for the quick gain, but Leslie was able drive on the play and arrive at the same time as the ball, stealing it from Jarwin for the interception. What appeared to be an easy pitch-and-catch for the offense turned into a defensive takeaway.
  • Some might believe that was Ryan Switzer's first shot at executing a "Jet Sweep" since the release of Lucky Whitehead, but that's not the case. Switzer had actually run the play a couple of different times during OTAs when Whitehead was dealing with his sore hamstrings. The play looked clean as far as the timing went. Switzer was good at the mesh point and was able to get the ball around the corner quickly. But next time, Emmett Cleary needs to block John Lotulelei to make the gain larger.
  • Marquez White is kind of a forgotten man as far as the young cornerbacks go is. Not many people have given him an initial shot to make the team when you look at all the numbers. White made a case to stick around during the one-on-one period when he was able to undercut an out route against Ryan Switzer and position himself in order to knock the ball away. It was a good read by White and an even better finish, playing with his off hand.
  • Two young defensive linemen that caught my eye during practice were Woody Baron and Lenny Jones. Baron has been lining up at defensive tackle and Jones at end. During the one-on-one pass rush drills I liked what I saw from a movement aspect in the way they both attacked blockers. I would say that both have more quickness than power at this point, but they were able to generate some pressure using varying techniques. In other words, they had a plan for how they were going to rush and they were able to execute it with some success.

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