The Dallas Cowboys are playing football, and we are here to talk about it. How awesome is that!? Training camp practices from Oxnard, California have been underway for just under a week now, with plenty of news stories, rumors, and updates to go around.
With the team taking an off day today, now is a good time for Cowboys Nation to gather their thoughts on what we’ve seen so far from the boys in silver and blue on the field.
With help from the awesome “Training Camp LIVE” footage available on DallasCowboys.com, let’s break down what the Cowboys have shown us so far.
The video from yesterday’s practice was broken into segments based on what drill the team was in, and this post will follow that order, so watch along with the link above!
Inside Running: Impressions from the Offensive and Defensive lines
The first drill shown was a simple strength vs. strength battle between the Cowboys offensive line – regarded as the best at their craft in the entire NFL – and defensive line, which enters the season with expectations at an all time low.
To start off with a positive that jumped out right away though from Defensive Coordinator Rod Marinelli’s front, the Ryan Russell hype that we have heard so far seems to have some merit to it. In his limited time so far with the Dallas Cowboys, Russell has shown some ability to rush vertically up the field, but what impressed me here was the progress he made laterally.
Often working against Tyron Smith, who consistently puts the opposition’s best pass rusher out of position on Sundays, the second-year player in Russell was able to set the edge and at least provide some resistance against the run.
The same could not truly be said for the rest of the defensive line, although they were working without two important pieces in defensive tackles Tyrone Crawford and Terrell McClain. Knowing how much Dallas will be relying on their depth at DT to generate pressure for this defensive front, it cannot be understated how limited the line was without these two players.
Fortunately, Crawford’s absence was reportedly for more of a scheduled rest day, as he did participate in morning walk through activities. His back injury will still be something to monitor closely as he makes a likely return to the field tomorrow, along with McClain – who should be back out there splitting time next to Crawford with Cedric Thornton.
Lastly, and it may go without saying, but the struggles from the Cowboys’ depleted defensive line obviously made the Cowboys’ offensive line look as dominant as ever – with Zack Martin and La’el Collins shining at right and left guard respectively.
1 vs. 1 Compete Drills: Making Jason Garrett Proud
Head Coach Jason Garrett tries to use a lot of saying and philosophies to summarize his Dallas Cowboys and the way they go about their business. Perhaps his two biggest messages have always been about competing and representing the team as a whole.
When the team split into these one on one passing drills, with the whole team watching each rep consisting of three players at the coaches selection, they could not have resembled these Garrett remarks better.
It appeared that the first players to be called upon right away were Morris Claiborne, Brice Butler, and Tony Romo. Before the ball was even snapped, this lineup fascinated me for a number of reasons.
You’ve surely already heard about Morris Claiborne dominating throughout every practice thus far, which have also been mentioned in the same breath as Dez Bryant’s “struggles”. Yet, it was not Bryant that came to take a rep with his quarterback against the Cowboys’ best corner back, or Terrance Williams, but WR2 hopeful Brice Butler – ready to receive the pass from Tony Romo.
Once the play was set in motion, the result should no longer come as a shock. Morris Claiborne dealt with Butler’s combination of size and speed perfectly, sticking with him the whole time and delivering a nice hit at the end of the play. Practicing officials gave Butler the juggling reception, but it would have been for a minimal gain.
Also impressive for this Dallas Cowboys secondary was Byron Jones – the sophomore player that finds himself assuming a big role in 2016 as the team’s full-time starting free safety. Byron Jones is certainly up to the task of making this adjustment mentally, and he showed a little bit more on the physical side working against Geoff Swaim yesterday.
At the top of his route, Swaim tried to use his size and strength to push Jones up the field, but Byron held his ground before reacting and bursting to the ball to knock it away. A flag was thrown on the play against Jones, but the contact certainly looked minimal, with the rest of the defensive roster pleading their case heavily on the sidelines over a training camp snap.
Both Byron Jones and Morris Claiborne played with a great level of confidence, which elevated the level of competition that we saw in this drill, the second to last one available on the film.
Final Thoughts: Full Offense vs. Defense
When the entire offense and defense finally came together for some snaps, it was the first time that we would get a sense of anything the Cowboys are implementing game plan and strategy wise. Of course, with training camp just getting underway, the offense kept mostly to their roots and pounded the ball with their multitude of talented running backs.
For this reason, my takeaways here didn’t vary much from what we observed in the run-only drills.
Ezekiel Elliott was doing his thing slashing through gaps, and even taking a few hits on the way. While the Cowboys have been clear in stating that all of these drills are intended to be ran without bringing the running back to the ground, the players on the defensive side of the ball desperately needed to respond to getting beat all day – and they did so in a great way by expanding what the rookie Zeke will see moving forward.
Along with their prized possession in Elliott, the Cowboys’ offense called on Alfred Morris, Darius Jackson, and Rod Smith to carry the ball, and all three were able to do so with some success.
While everyone is getting ready to watch how dominant a Cowboys’ running game built around Ezekiel Elliott could be come the regular season, it will be the other capable backs on this roster that can truly make this ground attack for the Dallas Cowboys elite.
Particularly, Darius Jackson played with great burst through the hole, and was able to make some impressive cuts in small spaces. Dallas has a preseason game in just ten days, and we can expect Jackson to be getting a lot of live reps at running back.
We’ll have much more on the Cowboys practices leading up to that game against the Los Angeles Rams right here on Inside The Star!
Until next time, thank you so much for checking out my thoughts and analysis on the Cowboys early 2016 training camp activities. Feel free to use the comment section below to discuss any of these notes further, or email me at Sean.Martin@InsideTheStar.com.
You can also follow me on Twitter @ShoreSportsNJ to talk Cowboys anytime!