Saturday Morning Mini-Camp Observations

IRVING, Tex. - Maybe the rookies didn't really pick up on the intensity of special teams coach Joe DeCamillis Friday, even though he could be heard all over the field as he barked instructions, corrections and praise at the young players.

• If he didn't get their attention Friday, it's a good bet that he did so Saturday morning. After the stretching at the start of the morning practice session, the team again split in to groups of about 10 players to go through some very basic drills for blocking and special teams coverage. After a few minutes, a horn blew, and DeCamillis instructed all of the players to rotate to the location of the group on the left. When players jogged to their next station, DeCamillis stopped everyone, reminding the rookies (and one-year veterans in attendance) that "nobody has earned the right to jog." He then had everyone go back to their previous station, just so he could give them the "rotate" instruction again. The difference in the players' level of hustle was dramatic.

• One position that might be up for grabs in 2012 is at punter, where longtime starter Mat McBriar suffered a nerve injury in his left (plant) leg, prompting the team to call up Chris Jones from the practice squad at the end of the season. Dallas has three punters in this weekend's mini-camp: Craig Ratanamorn (6-2, 198) of Marshall, Dave Harrington (6-4, 189) of Idaho State and Delbert Alvarado (6-0, 204) of South Florida. Alvarado was in camp with the Cowboys in 2010 and is a combo player, kicking field goals, kicking off and punting. All three have been impressive, and not just with distance. Harrington has gotten the best hang time most consistently, and repeatedly has placed tightly spiraling punts along the sideline when aiming away from where a returner would be.Ratanamorn also made a sensational one-handed grab on a snap that was several feet wide.

• Many of the players (basically everyone except the specialists and offensive linemen) went through a one-on-one blocking drill in which one player would race downfield as if covering a punt or kickoff, and a lone "blocker" would be waiting for him with the assignment of keeping him away from a (non-existent) returner. The guys charging downfield in coverage usually blew right through the would-be blockers, but two who repeatedly were able to stay in front of the coverage and shield the oncoming players toward the outside were linebackers Dorvus Woods (6-2, 252) of Arkansas State and veteran Orie Lemon, earning praise from the coaches.

• When the players went to position drills, the defensive backs lined up in pairs. At the instructions of defensive backs coach Jerome Henderson, the players would backpedal, race forward or cut to the left or right before catching a pass thrown toward them. Two players who repeatedly made their catches and accelerated faster in different directions than the player with whom they were paired were safety Matt Johnson and cornerback Mario Butler. The best catch in the drill was made by cornerback/safety Troy Wollfolk, who leaped high and twisted his body around to snatch a pass that was thrown a few feet behind him.

• It's a little difficult to evaluate the receivers because of inconsistent quarterback play. For the second day in a row, quarterbacks Nathan Dick and Larry Smith were erratic with their passes. In one drill, a receiver ran a deep route down the sideline with no defender — just a straight throw-and-catch drill — and Smith overthrew the receiver by several yards on three consecutive throws. On the next play, perhaps in an effort to help his consistency, Smith was asked to throw a quick screen pass … and air-mailed the ball several feet over the receiver's head.

• One of the better defensive plays of the morning session was turned in by linebacker Dorvus Woods, who jumped in front of a receiver on a crossing route to make an interception on a short pass over the middle.

Tight end James Hanna (6-4, 249) of Oklahoma is a big, mobile target who could be a viable target in the passing game. He has an NFL body and runs well, but he has let a few catchable passes slip through his hands in his first two days with the Cowboys. Yes, the quarterback play has been erratic, and it's early, but if he's trying to make the team as a third tight end, he has to catch the balls that are in reach.

• The players are not wearing pads — just helmets, jerseys and shorts. But put offensive and defensive players on the field in 11-on-11 or seven-on-seven drills and contact is inevitable. In one seven-on-seven drill, tight end George Bryan (6-5, 263) of North Carolina State and linebacker Kyle Wilber (6-4, 239) of Wake Forest both tried to make a play on the ball on a pass over the middle. When the players collided — hard — both fell to the ground, but Bryan made the catch and held on.

• Projecting starters for the season is difficult even when the veterans arrive, so projecting based on a rookie mini-camp is an activity that has to be taken with a gigantic grain of salt. That said, when the team went into "live" 11-on-11 drills, the first-team offensive line consisted of left tackle Jeff Adams (6-6, 304) of Columbia, left guard Harland Gunn (6-2, 324) of Miami, center Chris Thompson (6-1, 295) of Houston, right guard Ronald Leary (6-3, 324) of Memphis and right tackle Levy Adcock (6-5, 324) of Oklahoma State.

• The best catch of the day might have been turned in by wide receiver David Little (6-2, 183) of Midwestern State, who ran a deep post pattern from his spot on the right sideline … but when the ball drifted over his outside shoulder, Little was able to whirl around and dive toward the sideline, snagging the ball just before it hit the ground.

• Former defensive end Charles Haley is not an official member of the staff, but he has spent Friday and Saturday acting like he wants a job, grabbing offensive and defensive linemen and leading one-on-one tutorial sessions throughout practice. At one point, defensive line coach Brian Baker had Haley lead a teaching session for all of the defensive linemen, who looked like they were sitting in class as Haley first demonstrated pass rushing moves with Baker and then offered hands-on instruction to the players as they each mimicked his movements.

• Fielding punts at the end of practice were wide receivers Tim Benford (5-11, 196) of Tennessee Tech and Cole Beasley (5-8, 174) of SMU. Each dropped one but fielded the rest cleanly. Fielding kickoffs were wide receiver Salaam Hakim (5-11, 183) of Tarleton State, running back Lance Dunbar (5-8, 191) of North Texas, cornerback Lionel Smith (5-11, 180) of Texas A&M, cornerback Royce Hill (5-10, 189) of North Texas, cornerback Teddy Williams (6-1, 205) of UT-San Antonio and running back Darrell Scott (6-0, 226) of South Florida.

Wide receiver Donovan Kemp (6-1, 191) of UTEP watched the other kickoff returners … and watched the entire practice after pulling a hamstring Friday.

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