• One newcomer who made a number of plays during the afternoon session was cornerback Justin Taplin-Ross, an undrafted free agent out of Utah. The first thing that jumps out about Taplin-Ross is that he is huge for the position — he's listed at 6-3, 212, but looks even bigger (at least stronger) than that. For a big guy — a possible safety down the road? — he moves very well, backpedaling smoothly, flipping his hips quickly while chasing receivers and leaping well for high passes.
• Safety Matt Johnson, drafted in the fourth round out of Eastern Washington, also made a lot of plays. He doesn't look like he's moving that fast, but he caught and passed a couple of receivers on deep routes Friday afternoon. New defensive backs coach Jerome Henderson said after practice that Dallas coaches are impressed with Johnson's intelligence and athleticism, and called him a football version of a "gym rat."
• Both quarterbacks looked better in the afternoon than during the morning session, so maybe the scattershooting style on display in the morning was a result of nerves brought on by the first practice with their new team. Nathan Dick (6-3, 216), of Central Arkansas, looked significantly better, especially when throwing on the run. When rolling out in the morning, both Dick and Larry Smith (6-1, 214) of Vanderbilt air-mailed several passes, but several of Dick's throws were on target in the afternoon session.
• One of the local players trying to earn a roster spot is running back Lance Dunbar (5-8, 191), the all-time leading rusher in University of North Texas history. At his size, Dunbar has to show the quickness to get past defenders at the NFL level, and while players aren't hitting hard because they are not wearing pads in mini-camp, there still is a lot of congestion at the line of scrimmage at the line of scrimmage, and Dunbar looked good in the afternoon, finding a lane through the traffic and shooting through with impressive acceleration.
• Another ball carrier who impressed was running back Darrell Scott (6-0, 226) of South Florida. Scott is significantly bigger than some of the other backs in camp, and showed excellent hands when coming out of the backfield as a receiver. He made several nice grabs on screen passes — including one when he had to jump, tipped the ball in the air and then pulled it in with one hand — and made a couple of plays on crossing routes when he was able to snag passes between multiple defenders.
• Judging linemen in a rookie mini-camp when players barely hit (again — they're not wearing pads, so collisions at the line of scrimmage more closely resemble really vigorous leaning than any hits they'll see during a season) is nearly impossible. But when defensive line coach Brian Baker put his players through a series of drills designed to improve hand technique and reduce the time needed to get to the quarterback, one player who stood out was defensive end Luke Buck of something called Fairmont State, which apparently is in West Virginia. Buck is listed at 6-5 and 284 pounds and looks exceptionally quick and powerful, and regularly shot past "blockers" during drills. But before anyone envisions the next Charles Haley, the roster handed out to media for the mini-camp includes the regular list of draftees and undrafted free agents who were signed by the Cowboys, and then another list of 15 players who are glamorously listed as "workout guys" on the roster. In his final season at Fairmont State, Buck had nine tackles for loss, four quarterback sacks and an interception … but he appears on the second list.
• Wide receiver Cole Beasley had a solid day in the morning and afternoon sessions, until cornerback Isaac Madison figured out a way to get the sure-handed Beasley to drop a pass: run him over. Beasley looked angry when he failed to hang on to a pass on the right sideline during seven-on-seven drills after getting steamrolled by Madison, and he has a point: at 5-8 and 174 pounds, Beasley will be smaller than just about every defensive back he faces, so physical play will not be an excuse if he drops passes with any frequency … although he did nothing Friday to suggest that is likely.
• The best defensive play of the afternoon was turned in by linebacker Aston Whiteside (6-2, 257) of Abilene Christian. Whiteside drifted back to shadow tight end James Hanna (6-4, 249) on the right hashmarks. As quarterback Larry Smith fired a high pass to Hanna, Whiteside shot up out of a deep crouch and snared the ball before it reached its intended target.
Friday Afternoon Mini-Camp Observations
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