Starting with special teams, it was good to see kicker Ben Grogan pounding away on extra points and field goals with a healthy hip and showing more strength and height on the ball than he had at this same time a year ago. It was also great to see redshirt freshman punter Zach Sinor booming punts on the first day that special teams were getting work.
One of the big questions for head coach Mike Gundy and for special teams coordinator Robbie Discher is who will be involved in returns. Brandon Sheperd, James Washington, freshman running back Jeff Carr, freshman receiver Jalen McClesky, and David Glidden all were involved in catching punts. This looks like a duty that will take some time in fall camp to completely decide.
Much of practice after the initial individual drills and group work was spent on install with both the offense and defense installing their basic schemes. It is an annual rite of spring.
Gundy took to Twitter after practice to share some of his thoughts on practice and on some young players showing up in the practice.
"We've had a couple really good days," Gundy posted on his Twitter account @CoachGundy. "Few more practices before we can go full pads, but I think the players are excited about the season. We have some young guys who are moving around. (Jalen) McClesky made some plays today and (defensive tackle Darrion) Daniels is moving around well."
Eyeballing the quarterbacks and receivers in group work and it is easy to see how Mason Rudolph and J.W. Walsh are much more confident and relaxed in throwing the football, and the younger quarterbacks are pressing more. A year ago, Gundy pointed out that Rudolph was like that but his experience and the confidence that came with those three important games last season have led to his poise now.
Over on defense, coordinator Glenn Spencer was happy with what he was seeing out of his defensive players from their conditioning to their enthusiasm to get after the work.
"I love the enthusiasm. You can tell these guys put in a lot of work in the summer. They’re in shape. I thought we got after it," Spencer said of the practice. The veteran defensive coordinator protects himself out there as you can spot him with the long sleeve shirt and the safari-style floppy hat.
"The turnovers were good. We gave up a couple plays," added Spencer in reference to the 11-vs.-11 team period work at the end of practice. "We have to make sure that the strain was there to get him on the ground. I think it was off of mental errors. You keep doing those kind of things and you’re going to give up big plays. We have to get that corrected."
Pads will be put on Thursday with shoulder pads and then full pads go on Saturday. Spencer wants to get a lot of review and for the new players, a lot of material in before the weekend.
"There’s alignment, assignment, there’s takeoff, there’s eyes, there’s reads. It’s a lot," the defensive coordinator said. "We’re installing it fast because we have an older group, so we’re not taking our time. We’ve got a lot we want to accomplish. Today was shorts, so it’s more of an effort day. There was no tackling. Go in some pads tomorrow and now we’ll start getting physical and making sure our hand placement’s good, so it’s a ton."
I've reported several times that the defensive tackle position is the major concern I see with veteran and talented Vili Leveni done for the season with the torn Achilles this summer, and now the Cowboys have six scholarship defensive tackles and two of those are freshman.
"It’s a concern," Spencer answered. "It’s going to be watched close to see who’s going to be able to play in a game. Those guys are going to have to play with some injury and some pain.
"I’ve got a few more guys on the outside, but really after the first group with Jimmy [Bean] and Emmanuel [Ogbah], we’ve got a lot of guys that haven’t played before either. That’s what all these practices are for, to try to establish some depth. As many players as we can get on the bus that are the right players, that’s what we’ve got to do. It might not be many. That’s just the way it is."
The good thing is there is time to find answers. Camp is just underway and while it's nice to have so much decided as camp begins it's also what this time is for. More answers are bound to be revealed as shoulder pads go on with the helmets and shorts tomorrow for another 8:15 morning practice.