OXNARD, Calif. – It wasn't only the defenders who noticed the maligned Cowboys defense played better at Sunday's practice than it had at any point in camp.
From executive vice president Stephen Jones to wide receiver Dez Bryant, it seemed like a consensus that Sunday, in the last practice before the Cowboys scrimmage with the Raiders on Tuesday and Wednesday, was the defense's best practice of training camp.
"I told the defensive backs as we were breaking down, 'I'm mad we didn't get the best of y'all today,'" Bryant said. "Now, we've got to take it over to Oakland. I was really praising them, letting them know, 'Y'all got us today.'"
The defense can thank Orlando Scandrick for the majority of that praise.
Everyone's accustomed to seeing Bryant come down with just about every 1-on-1 opportunity he's given. But when head coach Jason Garrett gathered the team for a red zone 1-on-1 battle between Bryant and Scandrick, it was the corner that swatted the ball away.
In the same drill, Scandrick's tight coverage led to a rare drop from Cole Beasley, and the corner delivered a pop on a reverse to Dwayne Harris later in the practice.
"It got in our head," Bryant said. "Like I told Scandrick yesterday, we're talking back, it's got to be a good sign you're doing something to us. On the offensive side of the ball, we have a high standard. We want to be the best. That's what it's going to be. That's the kind of mindset that we have. We go out there with that each and every day. Scandrick really got under our skin today."
He got under it enough during team drills later in the day that Bryant had some choice words for the corner, but Bryant didn't want to say he let his emotions get the best of him.
"It's just like any other training camp," Bryant said. "You see it on T.V. You battle, you get under each other's skin, and at the end of the day, we're shaking hands, joking around laughing about some goofy stuff."
But it wasn't just Scandrick's performance that made the day noticeable for the defense. Scandrick's pop on Harris was sandwiched between a smack on Terrance Williams from Barry Church and an impressive hit on DeMarco Murray by Rolando McClain, who's now back at practice and covered significant ground on the play.
That McClain hit led to safety J.J. Wilcox yelling, "There we go! That's what we need!"
McClain, who missed the preseason opener, said he's not yet where he wants to be physically, but he felt better at practice Sunday than he has in a while.
"I wish I could have played, wish I could have been at practice," McClain said. "The most important thing is getting healthy, as healthy as I can get, but I felt a little out not just being in practice. It didn't matter how I felt, I wanted to go out there and practice today."
McClain's expected to practice against his former Raiders squad when the teams meet this upcoming week. He said he's looking forward to being able to hit someone that's not on his teams.
"I still know a few guys on that team, so it'll be good," McClain said. "But it'll also be good to put my pads on a few of those guys."
- While McClain returned and did more work than he had in the past, defensive tackle Henry Melton left the field. He was visibly upset, but it was his groin and not his surgically repaired knee, that forced him out.
- Williams was in an extremely awkward position when he took the hit from Church across the middle of the field. A pass from Tony Romo was high and the receiver crumpled to the ground after taking the shot, but he was back on the field and running full speed soon after.
- The offense ended the day with some strong red zone work against the defense, but there were other miscues throughout the day. Early in team drills, there were two false starts and issues with alignment.
- Speaking of flags, the corners got a lot of them during goal line 1-on-1 drills in the back of the end zone for holding receivers. Bryant said he's not sure if the emphasis on defensive holding is particularly fair for the corners, but he loves any advantage a receiver can get.
- J.J. Wilcox –He's a second-year player, but Wilcox sure seems to have assumed a leadership role on the defense. He laid all the same hits as usual, popping running backs and receivers repeatedly. What stands out about the safety mostly is the authoritative tone he takes with the rest of the defense. Wilcox has roasted B.W. Webb for practice miscues before, and on Sunday it was Terrance Mitchell who bore the brunt of that. Mitchell missed an assignment during full-team drills, and Wilcox laid into him as if he were a receiver.
- Justin Durant –When Durant lined up against Lance Dunbar in 1-on-1 pass coverage drills, people were joking all along the sideline about how badly the veteran linebacker would be beat by the speedster. Dunbar came out of the backfield and cut up the field for the ball. To Dunbar's credit he hauled in the reception, but he couldn't maneuver away from Durant, who brought him down for a minimal gain.
- DeMarco Murray –It's hard to fairly evaluate running backs during training camp practices, because the contact isn't live. But Murray looked strong Sunday evening, especially toward the tail end of practice. It says a lot about the offense's faith in their ball carrier that they turned to Murray on multiple occasions during two-minute drill. The first time, Murray ripped through the line for a long gain. Even bigger than that was toward the end of the drill, on the goal line. A Beasley reception took the offense to the one-yard line, and with time winding down on the clock Romo handed off to Murray for an easy touchdown.
Play of the Day:
Scandrick's deflection on the pass in the end zone to Bryant as Garrett brought the team together was the most indicative of the defense's solid day of work. Bryant's used to hauling in all types of passes when the ball gets near the goal line. He made a move and went up the sideline, going toward the back left pylon when Scandrick timed the jump and swatted the ball away. It set the tone for the rest of the day for the defense.
August 9 – The Dallas Cowboys waived rookie free agent punter Cody Mandell (Alabama) and Waived/Injured rookie free agent running back Ben Malena (Texas A&M) on Saturday. The club also signed rookie running back D.J. Adams (Portland State).
DT Henry Melton (groin)
Returned To Practice:
S Jakar Hamilton (jaw)
CB Tyler Patmon (hip flexor)
DE Ben Gardner (shoulder)
TE Jordan Najvar (ribs, oblique; limited)
WR Dezmon Briscoe (concussion)
DE George Selvie (groin)
DE DeMarcus Lawrence (ankle)
DE Anthony Spencer (knee)
DT Amobi Okoye (illness)
DT Terrell McClain (ankle)
Monday, August 11
No availability Player's day off
Tuesday, August 12
10:30 a.m. (PDT) Walkthrough (Oakland Raiders)
12:00 p.m. (PDT) Coach Garrett press conference
3:45 p.m. (PDT) Practice (Oakland Raiders)
Wednesday August 13
10:30 a.m. (PDT) Practice (Oakland Raiders)
12:00 p.m. (PDT) Coach Garrett press conference
3:45 p.m. (PDT) Walkthrough