Keeping the units together allowed for fans to see the first- and second-team offenses and defenses together. The only difference was during the spring there was plenty of work featuring the ones against the ones, while on Saturday the Orange-White script stayed with the first offense against the primary second defense and the first defense against the second offense.
It is very difficult in a format like that for coaches, players and fans to walk away feeling good about both sides of the football. However, the Cowboys kind of made that happen.
On offense, the Holgorsen spread stuck for the expected big plays, a tunnel screen for 65 yards from Brandon Weeden to Justin Blackmon, Kendall Hunter averaged 8.8-yards a touch with four carries and four receptions, and four other players caught touchdown passes including leading receiver Josh Cooper.
On defense, they held the offense to 3.2-yards a carry and 8.3-yards a pass completion which are respectable numbers, and while there was only one sack there were 10 tackles for loss, two turnovers, and the defensive line while not credited got a number of pass deflections at the line of scrimmage. The defense did all that without a key member, linebacker Orie Lemon, stepping on the field at all.
The best thing about Saturday was that there were virtually no injuries. Running back Travis Miller got blasted on the first play by big hit safety Markelle Martin and laid out the rest of the night. Isaiah Anderson had a slight ankle injury but returned to the game. Starting wide receiver Hubert Anyiam is the most serious of the spring injuries as he had to have foot surgery last Tuesday and will be a stretch to have back for the season opener.
Okay, so where are the Cowboys heading into the fall? Honestly, the players now have this season in their hands. Both Holgorsen and Young will rely on their leaders. On offense that is Weeden, Hunter, Cooper, and Grant Garner, and on defense count on Lemon, Shane Jarka, and Martin to push the team through all the work with Rob Glass and then eventually back out on the field on the hot summer afternoons for crucial work that will either make the game second nature for the team next season or with a lack of work will put the Cowboys behind those programs in the Big 12 whose players do put in the summer work.
I can hear the snickers out there right now. Robert Allen is preaching that hard work thing again. Seriously, last season if Dez Bryant, Kendall Hunter and Zac Robinson had stayed healthy the Cowboys could have relaxed and fished all summer and it wouldn't have mattered. They knew the offense and they had talent.
The defense needed the work and they put it in. Look where the defense wound up last season, better than you or I could have imagined in our wildest imaginations. Admit it, the defense was absolutely the highlight of the 2009 season. The 2010 season could be a highlight on both sides of the ball and in a year where my early expectation was winning six or seven and continuing the bowl streak to five in a row, now this team could be much better. But how much better depends greatly on the summer.
There are also key contributors in that huge freshman class, both early arrivals in the spring that you saw Saturday and others that watched from the stands and will report in June or July. Count skill athletes like Justin Gilbert, Chris Dinkins and Kevin Johnson as guys that could immediately find themselves in the mix.
Defensive tackle is a need position and that means Christian Littlehead, Diamonte Wheeler, or even Davidell Collins could factor. Star linebacker is still depth challenged and Shaun Lewis is expected to contend there. At quarterback Johnny Deaton got the head start and made the most of it but Nate Sorenson will come in looking to give Deaton a challenge in August, and it will make them both better.
Position by position here are some of our thoughts.
QB - Weeden is older, mature, has the cannon arm, and has thrown himself into learning the new offense and becoming a leader. I think Weeden could be a star if everything falls into place. The best thing about Weeden is he seems to be so at ease with himself and what he is doing. That isn't easy, yet he is radiating with confidence.
Deaton went from being overwelmed on the first day of spring practice to telling me last week that it was all slowing down for him and that he was starting to feel good. It has shown and he is a solid number two. Deaton is a crafty player that may not always look pretty but finds a way to make a play. He throws better that you might think and he always has his legs and speed to rescue him. His biggest play in the spring scrimmage may have been a second half throw away on the run. Some quarterbacks take a couple of years to understand that sometimes throwing the ball in the seats is a good play.
RB - This is where I was really wrong about Holgorsen's offense. I assumed it was geared to the receivers but this offense will likely be equal parts running backs and receivers. A great example in the scrimmage. Of the plays that featured a running back or a receiver the final count was 37 touches for the running backs and 41 for the receivers.
That's pretty close and I was thinking it would be more like two-to-one (or more) for the receivers. Kendall Hunter is GREAT! The good thing is that Travis Miller, Jeremy Smith, and Dexter Pratt all seem to be just as much at ease in making plays in the offense.
REC - We'll combine the outside and inside but they are different positions. Here's your group for now with Anyiam, Blackmon, Cooper and Moore. The next group now is Colton Chelf, Isaiah Anderson, Charlie Moore and Michael Harrison, but there is room for chalenges between some talented walk-ons like Anthony Hill, scolarship players like Adrian Richards, and the newcomers. Bottom line this position needs to be a steady feed of playmakers or the offense will bog down. Over the summer a key will be the healing power of Hubert Anyiam.
OL - Just leave it to Wickline. He will push, prod, cajole, and any other variety of methods to get the best five out there. Coming out of spring, center is solidified with Grant Garner and Casey LaBrue one and two. At guard I think returning starter Lane Taylor and Jonathan Rush are solid with Anthony Morgan pushing for a spot.
The top three at tackle are Levy Adcock, Mick Martinez and Parker Graham, and this is the position that needs the most improvement between now and Sept. 4. It will get it and by that date Joe Wickline will have eight or more guys he can depend on and more importantly so can Brandon Weeden. The offense helps too as it is very difficult if the play is run on time for the rush to have a chance to get to the quarterback.
DE - Very solid, maybe even spectacular when you think about the depth as Ugo Chinasa, who is quite the cover DE in zone dog work, Cooper Bassett, Wilson Youman, and Darius Hart could all be rotating at one defensive end, with Jamie Blatnick and Richetti Jones splitting time at the other. If his health holds up Jared Glover will play too as Bill Young loves how he plays. If only there were as many defensive tackles.
DT - You can't complain about the first two as Shane Jarka and Chris Donaldson are playing well. They give great effort and if you could clone them then you'd be alright. Nigel Nicholas is stout as well and learned to be effective if a little undersized inside. Cooper Bassett played here some and had his moments but he is much more effective at defensive end.
DeJuan Davis just came over from offense and it would have been nice if he had spent the entire spring there as he might be an answer. The incoming freshmen will get a look. Maybe, after a rough spring Anthony Rogers will show improvement in the fall. Rogers needs to play lower and get stronger.
LB - Joe Mitchell jumping in and being effective, along with James Thomas, helped the star position. Orie Lemon is a beast and if he stays healthy virtually guarantees that the linebacker corps will be a force. The veteran presence of Justin Gent and Tolu Moala really helps. Linebacker could be very solid for this fall. Caleb Lavey's early arrival and the arrival in summer of Shaun Lewis also make the position better.
Safety - The position is thin but Markelle Martin, Johnny Thomas and Daytawion Lowe are all playmakers and will all unload on you. More potential depth is coming in the freshman class. Martin is set to be a star as he has better pass coverage skills and the phyical presence as a hitter of a Lucien Antoine.
Corner - Brodrick Brown is solid, Andrae May is improving, and newcomers Devin Hedgpeth and Malcolm Murray had their moments in spring. This position is still a concern and needs to be more consistent. Two injured players, former safety Voctor Johnson and Andrew McGee, are set to return for the fall and went through drills some in the spring. Those two will help tremendously.
Justin Gilbert is still earmarked to play at corner and is a superior athlete coming out of Huntsville, Texas. Corner has to be strong or the defense will have problems. Our guess is coach Jason Jones will get it together in time for the season.
Specialists - Come on, does anyone have any complaints after Saturday about punter Quinn Sharp or kicker Dan Bailey? I didn't think so. By the way, that is the way both of them have been kicking throughout the spring.
#8-Johnny Deaton, 6-2, 200, Fr.
F (RB) - #24-Kendall Hunter, 5-8, 197, Sr.
#31-Jeremy Smith, 5-10, 203, RS-Fr.
or #32-Travis Miller, 5-9, 192, So.
X - #83-Hubert Anyiam (Inj.-foot) 6-0, 198, Jr.
#82-Isaiah Anderson, 5-10, 170, So.
Z - #81-Justin Blackmon, 6-1, 207, So.
#83-Colton Chelf, 5-9, 164, Sr.
H - #87-Tracy Moore, 6-2, 237, So.
#14-Justin Horton, 6-3, 240, So.
Y - #25-Josh Cooper, 5-11, 195, Jr.
#18-Charlie Moore, 6-3, 199, RS-Fr.
or #7-Michael Harrison, 6-1, 211, RS-Fr.
LT - #75-Nick Martinez, 6-4, 317, Jr.
#63-Jordan Taormina, 6-6, 327, Sr.
LG - #70-Jonathan Rush, 6-4, 314, Jr.
#51 Brandon Webb, 6-3, 326, RS-Fr.
C - #74-Grant Garner, 6-3, 290, Jr.
#64-Casey LaBrue, 6-3, 290, Jr.
RG - #68-Lane Taylor, 6-2, 301, So.
#65-Anthony Morgan, 6-5, 305, Sr.
RT - #73-Levy Adcock, 6-6, 330, Jr.
#71-Parker Graham, 6-7, 289, RSFr.
#99-Richetti Jones, 6-3, 264, Jr.
NT - #95-Chris Donaldson, 6-1, 299, Sr.
#66-DeJuan Davis, 6-2, 301, So.
DT - #46-Shane Jarka, 6-3, 295, Sr.
#89-Nigel Nicholas, 6-3, 265, So.
DE - #91 Ugo Chinasa, 6-5, 252, Sr.
#80 Cooper Bassett, 6-5, 259, So.
or #86 Wilson Youman, 6-5, 250, Jr.
Star - #22-James Thomas,5-11, 209, Jr.
#29-Joe Mitchell, 6-3, 210, Fr.
MLB - #41-Orie Lemon, 6-1, 246, Sr.
#59-Tolu Moala, 6-0, 230, Sr.
or #45 Caleb Lavey, 6-3, 228, Fr.
WLB - #42-Justin Gent, 6-1, 236, Sr.
#33-LeRon Furr, 6-2, 231, RS-Fr.
CB - #19-Brodrick Brown, 5-8, 180, So.
#18-Devin Hedgepeth, 5-11, 175, Fr.
SS - #10-Markelle Martin, 6-1, 194, Jr.
#8-Daytawion Lowe, 6-0, 195, So.
or #35-Mathies Long, 6-1, 210, Sr.
FS - #12-Johnny Thomas, 5-11, 195, Jr.
#8-Daytawion Lowe, 6-0, 195, So.
CB - #16-Andrae May, 5-11, 180, So.
#1-Malcolm Murray, 6-1, 195, So.
K - #95-Dan Bailey, 6-0, 200, Sr.
H - #99 Wes Harlan, 6-0, 190, So.
LS - #69 Marc Yerry, 6-2, 245, Jr.