Spagnola: Here's To Throwing The Notebook At You

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IRVING, Texas – Smiling while replaying memories of my father on this Father's Day Weekend and hopefully you are, too, and wondering since we now know beyond a shadow of a doubt who is going to call the plays – thank goodness – what in the world will be the first question asked of the Cowboys triumvirate on July 20 during the annual training camp-opening press conference in Oxnard, Calif. . . . .

So with a momentary lull about to sweep through The Ranch now that the Cowboys have completed nine OTA's, one Cowboys U and this week's three-day minicamp, I figured it's time to empty out the notebook in order to give you guys a whole bunch to chew on during the interim. And let's start here for the worry-warts, those already fretting the number of players not participating in the OTA's and this week's minicamp practices: it appears that the only players possibly not ready for the start of training camp in 35 days (first practice July 21) will be WR Danny Coale (knee) and FB Lawrence Vickers (back), meaning, yes, QB Tony Romo (cyst removed) will be good to go and good to see him throwing soft toss to the guys this week, as should DeMarcus Ware, Jay Ratliff and Anthony Spencer. I would not be at all surprised, though, to see caution flags waved at G Nate Livings and possibly G Mackenzy Bernadeau (shoulder). Same knee he had scoped after the season still giving Livings problems . . . .

LB Sean Lee has been walking around The Ranch with a T-shirt with this two-word phrase stacked three lines high: "The Ball, The Ball, The Ball." Maybe he should pass same T-shirts out to the rest of his defensive mates since on the first play of team on Thursday he intercepted a Kyle Orton pass intended for Jason Witten over the middle in the end zone. Says Lee after the umpteenth time he's been asked about the "Tampa 2" being installed by Monte Kiffin and Rod Marinelli, and about those guys who once played for them during the Bucs' heydays, "We have to forge our own identity." Yeah man . . . .

Guess those psycho-analyst shingles I wrote about last Friday concerning those trying to get inside the heads of Jason Garrett and Jerry Jones are already coming down after Garrett finally made it official Bill Callahan would indeed scream plays into Tony Romo's earpiece on game day. Garrett said this without actually saying it, but his previous reticence on the subject had more to do with feeling no compulsion to tell his opponents how the Cowboys offense would operate than any insecurity over giving up the play calling or pouting because the boss told him to give it up. See, in his mind, no one actually knew who was calling the plays when Bill Parcells was here; nor did folks know anything about how Nick Saban operated at Miami and probably still don't at Alabama. Garrett should have known, though, it sure is hard to keep secrets around these walls out here . . . And for those figuring with Callahan calling plays the entire offense would be revamped in his image (see West Coast), here are two pieces of evidence to the contrary. When asked if he still would be involved in game-planning, Garrett succinctly said, "Absolutely," and not a word more. And when Callahan was asked the same, the former play-caller with the Raiders and at Nebraska, said, "It's the Dallas Cowboys offense, it's not my offense, it's our offense. I think that's the main thing to understand here, like Jason has talked about, we've all mentioned it, it's a collective effort across the board with the offensive staff. I'm just a guy up in the box who is calling the play that there's consensus on, there's agreement on." Catch that, in the box, meaning for the first time in some time the Cowboys play-caller will not be on the sideline, at least from the start, since, well, would it have been Bruce Coslet (2002)? . . .

Got to like the competition going on during these OTA's and minicamp, even though no pads, especially in one-on-one's with the corners and wide receivers. As CB Morris Claiborne said of his spirited matchups with WR Dez Bryant, he'd try to match up with last year's leading wide receiver as many times as possible, calling out, "Dez, Dez, where you at?" when it was his turn to go . . . With all these tight ends on the 90-man roster, five running backs and no other fullback signed to at least fill in while Vickers recovers from back surgery, don't be surprised if the Cowboys go without a FB on their final 53-man roster. Of the possibility of Vickers not being around come Sept. 8, Garrett said, "We want to see where Vick's health is when we get to training camp." Ominous, no . . . Here is another good reason why the Cowboys likely will keep 10th-year veteran Will Allen around, even if he doesn't win the starting job next to Barry Church at safety: Experience, special teams capability and ability to reach the young guys, pointing out that while in Pittsburgh the last three years the motto he's bringing with him to the secondary here is, "If you ain't trying to hit, forget about it . . . you got to hit hard." Can I get another yeah man? . . .

This might have slipped by most in the zeal to report Garrett's confirmation of Callahan as the play-caller, but Garrett said, and I double-checked and he's right, that there are only 17 guys still on the Cowboys roster (not counting Josh Brent) who were there on Nov. 14, 2010, in the Meadowlands when the Cowboys beat the Giants, 33-20, in his then interim head coaching debut. Just 32 percent of 'em 40 games later. As for starters that game, none are left from the backfield (Romo already was out for the season) and the secondary, just one from the offensive line (Doug Free), one from the defensive line (Ratliff) and neither of the kickers . . . Last year's third-round draft choice Tyrone Crawford arrived at 285 pounds, a little light in the saddle to play DE in a 3-4, so he bulked up to nearly 300 pounds over the course of the season. Well, now that the Cowboys are playing a 4-3, there is no need for 300-pound defensive ends, so he's back at 285, but don't be surprised if you see him some inside, maybe as a pass-rusher DT . . . And while Ratliff mostly has played the 3-technique DT (outside shoulder of the weak-side guard) and Jason Hatcher the 1-technique (inside shoulder of the strong-side guard), the Cowboys view them as interchangeable. And all these moves to bring in so many of these veteran type defensive linemen – see Brian Price (released), Nick Hayden, Anthony Hargrove, Jeris Pendelton) – is more about seeking depth in the presumed absence of Josh Brent than dissatisfaction with a starting 1-technique. Garrett will tell you Hatcher has embraced the position and has defensive coaches raving, saying, "He's had a great off-season." And Ratliff, after recovering from his sports hernia surgery, appears to be in great shape to play that speed-rushing 3-technique . . . .

Here's a thought: If Livings continues to struggle with his knee and Bernadeau with his shoulder, what about Ron Leary playing right guard, rookie Travis Frederick moving from center to left guard and Phil Costa back at center? Just need five healthy starters playing together in training camp, unlike last year when the starting five in the season opener had just three practices together the entire off-season, camp and first week of season. Let's see when the pads come on, but Leary looks ready and I am told Frederick, who has taken all the first-team snaps at center during these 12 off-season practices, has worked some at guard off to the side . . . Oh, and wish most would quit saying the Cowboys drafted Frederick to "get bigger" on the offensive line. Frederick is listed at 6-3, 317, and Costa 6-3, 313. The difference is just lunch. Please . . . How's this for creating an economic boost, rookie J.J. Wilcox walking through the locker room with two bags full of Cowboys merchandise, saying, "Got to get some stuff for my mom." . . . [embedded_ad]

Not to worry about the Cowboys signing the remainder of their draft choices. Will be done in time, plus even if signed, those guys I'm told won't get their signing bonuses until July 19, anyway . . . Speaking of signing, Cowboys have until July 15 to sign franchised DE Anthony Spencer to a long-term deal, but as Cowboys COO Stephen Jones points out, "We'd love to have him here (long term), but it's got to work for him, too." . . . And if you think the Cowboys finally have created a little excess cap space, remember, they might attempt to extend Sean Lee, in the last year of his initial four-year deal, and would also like to carry some of that over to help out with next year's cap. Oh, don't even ask . . . .

So here's to the next time we get to hear new RB coach Gary Brown bellowing out at his guys in practice on every run to "finish," and to all the dads out there on this Father's Day weekend who are doing or have done a great job. Lucky me, mine did.

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