OXNARD, Calif. –It's a bit of a misnomer to say that training camp is winding to a close, considering what lies ahead for the Cowboys.
Yes, the team concluded its final padded practice on the West Coast on Wednesday. But there are still three weeks and three preseason games remaining before final roster cuts.
The work of the preseason is far from finished, and Cowboys coach Jason Garrett emphasized that after practice.
"I thought we did an excellent job laying the foundation for our football team here over the last couple of weeks," he said. "Now, we're a long way away. We know that. Coaches know that, players know that, everyone knows that. But the approach has been outstanding."
It's hard to argue against the Cowboys' efforts throughout these past three weeks, but the California portion of training camp ended on a bit of a down note. With a game against the Dolphins in two days, many of the Cowboys' key veterans took rest days. The backups in place behind them had their share of struggles, but Garrett was encouraged by the overall development at camp.
"I think they've grown over the course of the last couple of weeks," he said. "We've had veteran player come back and get the rust off and get themselves ready to play football again. So over the next three weeks we will give all of those guys a chance to play in games and continue to refine our team."
The remaining three weeks will take on a different look as the team re-settles in the Dallas area. Veterans will trade in their hotel rooms for homes and apartments, and the Cowboys will finish their move into the new facility at The Star. Despite all of those changes, Garrett said he hopes to maintain the same intensity and the same feel going forward.
"What we try to do is recreate what we have done here back there at least for this coming week," he said. "There are some moving parts, some logistical issues. But the biggest thing is to get focused on the work. I think our guys are excited to do that."
- Jack Crawford left practice on Wednesday and did not return. Garrett said it was a minor nick and expected Crawford to be fine, but it still raises questions about availability of the defensive line for Friday. David Irving is day-to-day with a groin injury, while Benson Mayowa and Maliek Collins are still working their way back from injuries of their own. With starters not expected to play much in the second preseason game, there's going to be quite a few reps available for guys like Ryan Russell, Shaneil Jenkins and Rodney Coe.
- Ezekiel Elliott upped his workload in practice, by a grand total of two team reps. Elliott went through the individual portion of practice, and he took two snaps with the first-team offense. It's unlikely he'll play against the Dolphins, but the plan is to continue to increase his participation.
- James Hanna underwent a knee procedure back in Dallas, which also prompts questions about the tight end position. Jason Witten and Gavin Escobar seem unlikely to work too much against Miami, so there will be plenty of work available for Geoff Swaim, Rico Gathers and Austin Traylor.
- Rod Smith has been absent from practice the last two days with what Garrett classified as an infection. As has been noted before, the running back position looks a bit thin while Ezekiel Elliott, Lance Dunbar and Darren McFadden work their way back to the field. If Rod Smith is unavailable to play against Miami, fellow fullback Keith Smith might see a carry or two behind Alfred Morris and Darius Jackson.
Alfred Morris –Elliott got two reps, as mentioned above, but the lion's share of the first-team work went to Morris – who was outstanding. It's always hard to gauge running backs in training camp, because tackling is not allowed. But Morris seemed to break through to the second and even the third level before he was even touched on most of his runs.
Damien Wilson –The second-year linebacker has wasted no time getting involved in these practices – maybe because he's fresh after three weeks of rest. Wilson had an interception during Tuesday's practice, and he was disruptive again on Wednesday with several tackles and good coverage down the field.
Lucky Whitehead –Whitehead hasn't really shined as a true receiver during training camp, but he consistently shows just how dangerous his speed can be. During full-team drills, the offense found two different ways to get him the ball – first, on a fly sweep and then on a reverse from Morris. He took both for sizable gains, even without full-contact. Whitehead is a weapon if he can get himself into space, as he continues to prove.
Play of the Day
The second-teamers got a chance to show out on this particular day. During two-minute drill, Jameill Showers was chased from the pocket and uncorked a long gainer to Brice Butler on a corner route. Butler extended himself and was able to get his knees on the ground inbounds before sliding out of bounds near the 38-yard line. It was a nifty catch, and it set the stage for a 56-yard Dan Bailey field goal attempt with three seconds remaining. Bailey's kick was into the wind and bounced cruelly off the cross bar and into the end zone. Still a nice catch by Butler, though.
Unofficial Injury Report
QB Tony Romo (rest)
OT Tyron Smith (rest)
OT Doug Free (rest)
LB Sean Lee (rest)
CB Orlando Scandrick (rest)
DE DeMarcus Lawrence (rest)
FB Rod Smith (infection)
DE David Irving (groin)
CB Anthony Brown (hamstring)
DE Charles Tapper (back)
LB Andrew Gachkar (thumb)
QB Kellen Moore (fibula)
WR Chris Brown(foot)
RB Darren McFadden (elbow; Active/NFI)
RB Lance Dunbar (knee; Active/PUP)
LB Jaylon Smith (knee; Active/NFI)
TE James Hanna (knee; Active/PUP)