Friday Morning Mini-Camp Observations

IRVING, Tex. - The Cowboys held the first practice of their inaccurately named "rookie" mini-camp (several players with one year of NFL experience also took part) at the practice fields behind the team's training facility in Valley Ranch.

Cornerback Morris Claiborne (5-11, 182), the team's top draft pick from LSU, was in attendance in his No. 24 jersey, but was limited to the role of an observer while recovering from a left wrist injury he suffered in November (although he played the rest of the season). Morris said after practice that he will have pins removed next week from the surgically repaired wrist.

• Former Dallas defensive lineman Leon Lett made his first public appearance as an assistant defensive line coach. Also in attendance and talking to offensive and defensive linemen throughout the morning practice session was former star defensive end Charles Haley.

• Speaking of Cowboys alums … any sports fan who lives in the Dallas-Fort Worth area has heard ads on television and the radio featuring former guard Nate Newton, who now is a co-host of an afternoon radio show on ESPN Radio in Dallas, in which Newton talks about the surgical procedure he had done a few years ago to help him lose weight. Newton looks amazing. Now sporting a full beard, Newton looks almost lanky — at first glance, he looked more like former defensive end/linebacker Greg Ellis than he did like his former self, and said he hasn't felt as good as he does now in years.

Want to feel old? Newton's son, Tre, is scheduled to graduate in December from the University of Texas.

• One of owner Jerry Jones's personal lab experiments, former UT-San Antonio track star Teddy Williams (6-1, 205) is on the move again. Originally signed as a cornerback, Williams was moved last year to wide receiver, but now is back at cornerback.

Special teams coach Joe DeCamillis was in midseason form from the start of practice. Several players had shocked looks on their faces when DeCamillis ran the first drill of the day, a kick coverage drill, with a voice and demeanor that suggested he consumes nothing but straight espresso … and only espresso (with maybe a little coffee as a chaser). DeCamillis is known for his off-the-charts intensity, and the way he got after some of the rookies a few minutes after their first warm-up and stretch as professionals clearly was an eye-opener to some about how things are done at the NFL level.

• Some players follow their last season in college by training hard for the NFL Combine or their school's Pro Day … and then slack off in the conditioning department, only to find out they are expected be in shape the day they arrive at an NFL camp. Some receivers who showed considerable fatigue early in Friday's practice did not go unnoticed by head coach Jason Garrett, who barked, "we're four minutes in to our first practice — you can not be tired already," before an impromptu lecture about the pace expected from players during drills. Garrett seemed particularly annoyed when players felt the urge to chat with each other between drills, reminding them to be ready for each drill and to eliminate conversation. "This is football practice," he said. "You've been doing this since you were this high (holding his hand at his waist)."

• The passing game was not sharp Friday morning, although to be fair, it was the first time most of the players had met. Some receivers dropped passes, but quarterbacks Larry Smith (6-1, 214) of Vanderbilt and Nathan Dick (6-3, 216) of Central Arkansas fired several passes long, short and wide of their targets. They're getting to know a new system and new teammates, so the quarterbacks can't be dismissed after a single practice session, but they need to show ample improvement … quickly. One assistant coach joked that a couple of wobbly off-target passes made him wish he had brought his duck-hunting gun to the practice field.

Craig Ratanamorn (6-2, 198) of Marshall is listed on the Cowboys roster as a punter, but he put on a show while practicing field goals. Kicking toward the narrow goal posts (about half as wide as normal NFL pipes), Ratanamorn regularly split the uprights. On a 20-yard field goal, he split the pipes with enough distance that the ball landed on the roof of the team's training facility (maybe another 25-30 yards behind the goalposts). As he backed up, he was good on several field goals, the longest being 45 yards.

Linebacker Caleb McSurdy (6-1, 246), the team's seventh-round draft choice out of Montana, looks like an inside linebacker: short, thick and powerful. But he moves better than many would suspect of a player of his stature. McSurdy was worked out before the draft as a fullback candidate by Dallas running backs coach Skip Peete and representatives from other NFL teams, and showed why teams liked his mobility when he dropped into coverage during seven-on-seven, stayed with tight end James Hanna — a big target with ample speed — on a crossing route, broke out of his backpedal and shot forward in time to dive in front of Hanna to knock away a pass that was low enough that it appeared it would be caught by Hanna or nobody at all.

• The two most impressive receivers were Danny Coale (6-0, 196) or Virginia Tech and Cole Beasley (5-8, 174) of SMU. Both are in exceptional shape, caught virtually everything near them all day and showed enough elusiveness in their running that it's evident how they are productive players despite having good but not elite speed.

• The defensive play of the morning was turned in when cornerback Isaac Madison (5-10, 173) of Arkansas lined up against tight end George Bryan (6-5, 263) of North Carolina State. When Bryan went up for a high pass, Madison climbed the ladder to battle him for the ball. The two reached for the ball at the same time, only to watch cornerback Troy Wollfolk (5-11, 196) swoop in to grab the deflection and cruise down the sideline for a would-be touchdown.

• The veteran players who took part in the morning drills included players like cornerback Teddy Williams, cornerback Mario Butler, linebacker Orie Lemon and defensive tackle Robert Callaway. But working out on his own on the extra field: rising star linebacker Sean Lee, who went through an assortment of conditioning and linebacker drills.

• Fielding punts after practice: wide receiver Tim Benford (5-11, 196) of Tennessee Tech, Cole Beasley and Danny Coale. Players fielding kickoffs included: cornerback Teddy Williams, wide receiver Saalim Hakim (5-11, 183) of Tarleton State, cornerback Lionel Smith (5-11, 180) of Texas A&M and cornerback Royce Hill (5-10, 189) of North Texas.

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