OXNARD, Calif. – The Cowboys had another spirited practice in front of an energetic crowd again on the first weekend of training camp.
Here are some key talking points that came up from practice, including the emphasis on getting the ball out.
It is all about the ball
The Cowboys want to create more turnovers on defense while also reducing their offensive giveaways. Mike McCarthy and Co. are attempting to improve in those areas by utilizing an assortment of ball drills to help skill players (wide receivers, running backs, linebackers, and defensive backs) improve their hand-eye coordination, pass-catching ability, and ball skills. Although these drills consisted of basic pass-catching drills that are commonly seen at high school and youth football practices around the country, the Cowboys' decision to include all of their skill players in these drills suggests that the team is placing a greater emphasis on catching the ball.
Moreover, the attention to detail on a skill that is routinely developed at the lower levels is an acknowledgment that the team did not play the kind of football that McCarthy wants and he is making changes to the practice routine to ensure better play in 2021.
DQ wants to tap into the versatility of the Cowboys' linebacker corps
After adding several blue-chip linebackers to the roster during the offseason, questions persisted on how the Cowboys would take advantage of a unit with five defenders (Jaylon Smith, Leighton Vander Esch, Micah Parsons, Keanu Neal, and Jabril Cox) with diverse skill sets. It appears Quinn has a plan in place to get each linebacker on the field in a role that plays to the strengths of their respective games.
For instance, Smith, Vander Esch, and Parsons are traditional box linebackers with edge rush ability. Each defender logged a few snaps as a stand-up pass rusher in a variety of sub-package fronts that made the linebacker corps resemble a game of musical chairs.
Meanwhile, Quinn featured Neal and Cox as space players in some packages to take advantage of their versatility. Neal, in particular, spent a lot of time matching up with tight ends in a "Dime" formation that put Parsons at middle linebacker with Jourdain Lewis playing as the Nickel. With Smith and LVE playing on the second-string "Dime" unit, the Cowboys are preparing to unveil a multi-faceted defensive plan that mixes and matches personnel to give DQ more options to attack opponents this fall.
More focus on situational football
It does not take long to realize the Cowboys are spending more time practicing situational football. After faltering in several late-game situations in 2020, the Cowboys are dedicating a few minutes each day to practice a "no-huddle/two-minute offense" period designed to drill and refine their execution in a key situation.
While most NFL teams routinely practice two-minute scenarios in practices, the Cowboys run multiple no-huddle periods with their quarterbacks. The initial two-minute offense periods take place on a separate field with just the quarterbacks operating the drill. With one quarterback playing as QB1 and the others running through routes as wide receivers, the Cowboys' coaches are not only giving the designated quarterback mental reps but they are helping each quarterback fully understand the nuances of the scheme by running the routes.
Considering the extra reps and the attention to detail through an additional run-through period, it is not a coincidence the offense finished 3 for 3 during the two-minute competition against the defense in a team period.