Sullivan: Random Thoughts Include Whitehead's Hustle, Smith's Rehab

OXNARD, Calif. - Some of the thoughts that run through an oversized, bald head:

  • Four days of training camp in the books and there's a lot going on. Let's empty out the legal pad. And yes, I use a legal pad and not a reporter's notebook like virtually everyone else in Oxnard. And yes, it's a pain to carry around.
  • The three most impressive players during the first padded practice on Monday were Morris Claiborne, DeMarcus Lawrence and Alfred Morris. I have news for everyone who may have not figured this out by now, but Morris isn't the third-string back. I came to camp under that assumption, too. I was dead wrong. He's going to be the backup, and he's going to see a lot of work.
  • Look, Lawrence made a mistake, took full accountability and it is what it is. Can't change it. Knucklehead decision by a young player. However – and this is one of those howevers I would have put in caps except I'm against using caps to illustrate a point – this wasn't a setback. He's not going to have issues moving forward. Maybe it was that final push he needed to focus entirely on his future as a football player. This dude is on a mission. In the offensive-defensive line drills he looked like Lawrence Taylor in the original Tecmo Bowl video game. And this is against the best offensive line in the game.
  • We all know – we being those covering the team – that no one wants to hear this. Still, we have a job to do so here goes: Gavin Escobar looks fantastic. He easily had the best catch during the modified scrimmage on Monday, a timing pattern that had me stunned Tony Romo even threw the ball to him. He has never trusted Escobar on throws like that over the last three years. Maybe it's time for the breakthrough so many have been waiting for.
  • There was a special teams walk-thru on Monday morning. I was honestly half paying attention when Lucky Whitehead caught my eye, mostly because he was running full speed on the kick and punt returns. And making some ridiculous cuts. After returning one punt, running 50 yards downfield, he jogs back, then decides he wants to run a few on coverage, sprints back downfield, 70 yards, and jumps in on the next punt from the JUGS machine.
  • As I was writing this in my notes, I hear the whistle blow for the next punt, and there's Lucky returning another one. The young man was giving new meaning to hustling. Dez Bryant has been spending a ton of time with him on routes and catching balls from the JUGS after practice, too. Good stuff.
  • This was one of those not-really-talked-about stories last season, but Tyron Smith wasn't at the same level he was in 2014. It was the least of concerns, though, and he was still clearly playing at a Pro Bowl-caliber. Has looked dominant here so far, like Larry Allen-type of stuff. Pancakes galore. And he's chiseled to the point of, well, how does he have 3.5 percent body fat or whatever it is everyone needs to stay alive and functioning?
  • I'm not a doctor, and no this isn't a Holiday Inn Express joke, but more and more the last few days, while the morning walk-thru was taking place, I found myself drifting toward the adjacent practice field where running backs Darren McFadden and Lance Dunbar were running routes, catching passes and doing rehab work. Both look ready, too, but honestly, that's not why I was there.
  • On Monday, I noticed that Jason Garrett kept sneaking glances at the other field as well, and he like me, wasn't looking at the aforementioned duo. He was instead watching rookie linebacker Jaylon Smith. So Tuesday, I figured the hour-long practice without pads or even helmets could manage without me and I watched associate athletic trainer and rehab expert Britt Brown work out Smith.
  • I've been asking around about Smith since arriving and everyone seems to agree that he's ahead of where they thought he'd be. I know the whole nerve regrowth is a ginormous concern, but he's moving pretty well. He ran what looked like a 40-yard dash at the end of a grueling workout, and trust me, he ran it faster than a lot of guys who were on the other field. And he obviously wasn't going full speed.
  • Everyone is saying this is a redshirt season for Smith, and that may be the case, but it's the first few days of camp, and he's doing a lot of things I haven't seen other rehabbing players do in August yet they ended up playing later in the year.
  • For those wondering just how high the Cowboys brass are on Smith, he probably would have been the No. 4 overall selection if not for the injury in the bowl game. I've been critical of the pick, but if the nerve fully heals, this could be one of the great draft steals in team history.
  • If the Cowboys are ever on *Hard Knocks *again defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli is going to be the star of the season. The intensity and colorful language is a fantastic mix. 
  • Garrett has been spending a ton of time, often after practice ends, with rookie quarterback Dak Prescott. He's making progress, but like all rookie signal callers, they resemble what Bill Parcells compares to a ball in tall grass ­– lost. Like his work ethic, though, and the arm is there. The decisions just need to come quicker, but they should in time.
  • Wideout Brice Butler might not be starting in Week 1 against the Giants, but he is going to start at some point this season. Not sure anyone has improved more in the last year among the skill-position players.
  • Grabbed lunch on Monday in a to-go box, and as I was coming out, Ezekiel Elliott was having some food at the high-top table in the hallway looking at his tablet. Since I was walking by, I figured why not take a look, maybe he was checking something out on YouTube or looking at Twitter. Nope, he was scrolling through his playbook.
  • That afternoon, he came out nearly an hour before practice, stretched, did some running, then stopped to sign autographs before heading into the locker room. Shortly thereafter, he was one of the first players on the field, in his pads, ready to go. He's hungry.
  • Defensive tackle Cedric Thornton has been impressive, going to be tough denying him a starting gig. Endless motor during the OL/DL drills. Wanted to keep going and going, more reps, continuing his pursuit after the whistle.
  • Veteran tight end James Hanna, quietly as always, doesn't really make mistakes. He's not flashy, and he certainly doesn't draw attention or stand out. He just does everything expected of him.
  • Former Cowboys personnel director and more or less the father of NFL scouting Gil Brandt has been around the last few days, taking notes on his index cards. He's a legend, still going strong at 83. He was hired by the expansion Dallas Cowboys more than a year before John F. Kennedy gave his inaugural address. That's kind of a long time ago.
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