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Spagnola: Keeping Hands To Themselves In OTA

25 May 2023:   Jose Barbon (14)    
of the Dallas Cowboys during an OTA  practice at the Ford Center at The Star in Frisco, Texas.   Photo by James D. Smith/Dallas Cowboys
25 May 2023: Jose Barbon (14) of the Dallas Cowboys during an OTA practice at the Ford Center at The Star in Frisco, Texas. Photo by James D. Smith/Dallas Cowboys

FRISCO, Texas – Impressions of Thursday's VOTA workout here at The Star and Ford Center.

Uh, that is Voluntary Organized Team Activities, let's not forget that.

Or maybe it should be HOOTA. That's Hands Off Organized Team Activities, and the Cowboys for darn sure after getting their hands slapped, their pocketbooks emptied some and practices forfeited for too much contact in these helmets, jerseys and shorts workouts the past two offseasons made doubly sure there was not an ounce of physicality during their second of what could have been the third OTA of the week.

Even head coach Mike McCarthy took a jab at humor during his lone press conference this week, starting off by saying, "There are rules we all have to adhere to. Team drills are not practical under the guidelines. So today, basically our team will be walk-throughs."

Leaving himself open for someone to ask, "Is that to avoid fines?" followed by a round of media laughter, since the team was docked one OTA session this year and McCarthy fined $100,000 for consecutive offenses, the first a $50,000 one in 2021.

"Well, I'm glad you find the humor in it," McCarthy interjected. "My wife and I don't think it's really funny. It's actually a sore spot for me. … We've got to follow the rules."

And boy, did they overly, especially since last year's deemed aggression certainly wasn't egregious for those witnessing the workouts.

So Thursday, during 7-on-7 and team periods, there was no challenging passes in the air. No diving to make plays. Might as well have worn those puffy 16-ounce boxing gloves. And for sure, no one-on-one passing drills.

But there was enough other stuff to chew on.

Like once again cornerback Trevon Diggs, much like times last year, was not _volunteering _this Thursday.

But sure did see sixth-round draft choice Eric Scott Jr., the Southern Mississippi cornerback the Cowboys traded into the sixth round's first pick, getting some first-team reps at right corner opposite veteran Stephon Gilmore. Telling you, keep an eye on this kid.

Already was keeping an eye on Tristan Vizcaino, since the Cowboys did stage a nine-attempt kicking session, with special teams coach John Fassel holding. Vizcaino, trying to earn the Cowboys trust and the kicking job, yet knowing he will soon face some veteran competition before the Sept. 10 opener arrives, made seven of his first eight kicks, ranging from 33 to 45 yards. But his attempt from 51 on the final attempt was disappointingly short and wide right, frustrating even himself, knowing he didn't hit the ball with any pop that time.

Didn't see anything from veterans Zack Martin and DeMarcus Lawrence, the Cowboys preferring to allow those vets to continue with their strength and conditioning programs. Or as Lawrence told me, "Old school maintenance." Not so for Tyron Smith, though, out there with the first team at right tackle with Terence Steele still rehabbing his surgically repaired knee.

And while it was only drills, good to see running back Tony Pollard participating in some of the early periods and moving effortlessly after his surgery to repair torn ligaments above the ankle.

As for running backs, you know, when you see the 5-6, 176-pound Deuce Vaughn walking around, his rather small stature is not so obvious, especially for us short guys. But when he's on the field with the rest of the Cowboys, wow! And we thought Cole Beasley was small.

Keep an eye on second-year back Malik Davis, 5-10 but 205 pounds. This kid flashed as an undrafted rookie last year, averaging 4.2 yards on 38 carries. With Ezekiel Elliott no longer here, opportunity will knock for Davis.

Oh, and McCarthy didn't mince any words when asked about finding a replacement in the running back room for Zeke in short yardage and goal-line situations, saying, "Well, I don't think you just go out and replace Zeke. I don't view it that way. Cap-o-nomics, that's real, and sometimes you have to make decisions. …

"(The coaches) were doing short-yardage and goal-line last night, and, you know, he just jumps off the tape. It's really not about replacing Zeke. It's about opportunities for the young guys."

But, you know, it is about replacing Zeke's 12 rushing touchdowns, and the fact he was averaging 4.2 yards a carry before the Cowboys lost Steele for those final six games.

During the early team walk-through portion, the Cowboys had two sessions going at once, the veterans on one end of the field and youngsters working on the other, where did see third-round pick DeMarvion Overshown and undrafted rookie Isaiah Land, a defensive end at FAMU, paired together at linebacker.

Also saw third-year corner Kelvin Joseph lining up some in the slot on nickel formations, and even in these non-contact workouts, you can see how quick his feet are and just how fast he is. Now if he just conquers the ability to know what to do and his penchant to be too jumpy in coverage for his own good.

Good to see Matt Waletzko back on the field practicing after undergoing shoulder surgery last season, landing on injured reserve for the final 11 games. My goodness, he's 6-7, 320, and was working at left tackle. Remember, he was a fifth-round pick in 2022.

If early indications are meaningful, wide receiver Michael Gallup sure looked good out there, playing with speed and confidence and showing off his hands, snagging a pass in one drill one-handed. Even Dak Prescott was impressed, knowing Gallup struggled some coming back last year from his torn ACL, saying, "Starting to come back into who Michael Gallup is."

If you need a further scouting report from McCarthy, when asked how Brandin Cooks and Stephon Gilmore are fitting into the team after being traded for this offseason, he said, "They've been everything we thought they'd be."

And then there was Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee DeMarcus Ware conducting some pass-rush, in-service drills with the defensive ends, with Micah Parsons all ears, the former Cowboy demonstrating he still is quick enough to zip around offensive linemen, which got those young D-ends' attention. He also said the process of having your bust made is something else.

Well, be back next Thursday for another recap on the next OTA workout we're allowed to watch before the following week's powder-puff mandatory minicamp, Dak saying of these ultra-cautious OTAs to prevent any further fines or docking of workouts, "It's tough. That's just the world we live in now, right, the CBA and all that. … We've got to make the most of it.

"When we're out there in 11-on-11 periods, we understand we can't be physically full speed, but my mind can."

Just another indication of mind over a matter of rules.

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