IRVING, Texas – Another week, and another Cowboys OTA practice is in the books. I had a chance to spend a few hours watching this team for a second time, and I came away with some favorable impressions.
Here's my second batch of 12 thoughts from Cowboys OTAs:
1). I admire the fight that Byron Jones has in the way that he plays. To the rookie's credit, he didn't back down from the challenge of having to cover one of the all-time great tight ends in NFL history on Wednesday. Jason Witten might not be able to get up the field like he did six or seven years ago, but he is still a handful and Jones learned this the hard way. What was impressive about Jones is how physical he was at the line with Witten -- which is the only chance he had. Jones did the right thing by attacking him. As a defender you cannot allow Witten to get up the field because he is going to lean on you to buy separation, which has always been an effective trait in his game. Once Witten gets that space, he is not going to allow you to recover to get back into position. Jones showed nice strength to be able to hold onto Witten, which could have drawn a flag or two -- and from the looks of things that could have been the case. But it was a promising sign that Jones didn't shy away from the opportunity.
2). Some of the whispers after the season were that there was a chance that Brandon Carr might be moved from left corner to the right, and on Wednesday we saw that during the practice. Carr has flopped sides before playing "Star Coverage," and from what I was able to see he looked comfortable even though his footwork, vision and technique are different from one side to the other. But that did not appear to bother him.
3). Heard an interesting explanation from Derek Dooley on why Terrance Williams is a body catcher. Williams' hands are smaller than most receivers', and the more that he has had to play in his life, he has had to learn to compensate for them. Dooley works with Williams every day on catching the ball in his hands, but he is not trying to break Williams of this habit. Dooley said there is not a better receiver in this group that gets separation and comes back to the football than Williams -- which allows him to use his body to make catches.
4). Of the running backs on this roster, there is no question that Joseph Randle has the best hands of the bunch. There were several snaps in the 2-minute drill where he made nice adjusting catches to passes that were poorly thrown, and this wasn't the first time that Randle was able to be successful doing this.
5). Dime defensive backs: Orlando Scandrick, Brandon Carr, Byron Jones, Tyler Patmon, Barry Church and J.J. Wilcox. I thought this group did a nice job of matching up with these wide receivers and that includes playing Cole Beasley out of the slot.
6). This was the first day that we were able to see La'el Collins line up at guard, even though in his Wednesday morning press conference Jason Garrett offered that Collins had already received some snaps there. I really do like Collins' fit at that spot much more than tackle because it takes him out of the mix as a space player. He just looks more comfortable playing with power and limited movement. It was a nice education working with Tyron Smith and Travis Frederick picking up twist stunts, which is not an easy thing to do patience-wise. He looked composed and sure of what he needed to do with his technique and assignments, which is not always easy for a rookie linemen to handle.
7). About the time you want to write Gavin Escobar off, he makes a big catch on 4th-and-4 to keep a drive going during the 2-minute drill. I am not completely sure what Escobar's role is going to be going forward, but there are those moments like this one where you know that he needs to be on the field making more plays.
8). Get ready to see plenty of Lucky Whitehead in the second half of preseason games this season in the slot receiver role. For the second practice in a row, Scott Linehan put Whitehead on the field and threw him a screen pass to take advantage of his explosive burst. Whitehead is doing his best Cole Beasley impression when it comes to running routes and finding space in the defense. What is also impressive about his work is that, even as a rookie, you can put a lot on his plate and he doesn't appear to struggle with that. He plays assignment sound.
9). Corey White normally will line up at corner playing out of the slot, but during this practice he took some snaps as a safety and he did not struggle at all in coverage.
10). Ben Gardner physically looks like a different player, and with DeMarcus Lawrence not practicing, he was able to take full advantage of the extra snaps he got. Gardner will surprise you with his ability to get off the ball and attack the blocker. He and Darrion Weems hooked up several times where Gardner did a nice job of putting him in some poor positions. The test for Gardner will be his health and how well he carries his pads.
11). This was the first practice where I really noticed Efe Obada as a pass rusher. The learning curve is huge, but in talking to members of the front office, they couldn't be more pleased with his effort and his willingness to learn. During the team portion of practice he came with a really nice combination using his hands and feet against Ryan Miller to defeat him for a pressure. It's those types of rushes where you believe that there is something there, but it's going to continue to take a lot of technique work before he is even a consideration for a roster spot -- but it was nice to see him to have some success.
12). Thanks as always to David "Tiny Jim" Helman for making my work readable.