Tuesday Insider Observations

IRVING, Tex. - Insider news and notes as the Cowboys begin their annual mini-camp at Valley Ranch.

• As expected, CB Mike Jenkins was at practice, as attendance is required at the mini-camp (OTAs were optional). Jenkins, who is coming off shoulder surgery and sat out the OTAs after asking for a trade once the Cowboys signed free agent CB Brandon Carr and traded up to draft CB Morris Claiborne, watched from the sideline and is not expected to take part in any of the mini-camp drills this week. Following practice, he appeared in the locker room but declined to discuss his situation. Owner Jerry Jones, however, said he expects Jenkins to work hard and compete as soon as he is healthy, adding that he has "never seen Mike Jenkins not compete." When asked if he would entertain the idea of offering Jenkins a contract extension at some point during the 2012 season, Jones dodged the question, saying only, "I don't get in to anything to do with contracts (in the media) at all."

• A round of whispers spread throughout the media during the early stages of Tuesday's practice when it was realized that TE Jason Witten was not on the field for the first required session of the offseason. As it turns out, Witten was selected for jury duty Tuesday (forcing him to miss a scheduled charity appearance), and the case carried over until Wednesday morning. When a verdict was reached, however, Witten returned to Valley Ranch and raced on to the practice field about a half an hour after the session started. Some teammates gave him some grief, but Witten talked after practice about how he was honored to do jury duty and perform his civic duty.

• Two clear-cut winners for the catch of the day: WR Dez Bryant and LB Bruce Carter. When lined up wide to the right during team (11 on 11) drills, Bryant turned and ran straight across the line of scrimmage toward the quarterback for what should have been an easy screen pass. QB Tony Romo fired the ball several feet over the head of Bryant, who calmly leaped several feet off the ground, palmed the ball with his left hand as if he were snaring a rebound and cradled it in his arm before heading upfield. Moments later, the linebackers did a pass coverage drill in which each player took turns backpedaling, as if shadowing a receiver and changing directions every time the coach throwing passes moved the ball from one side to the other (making them react to the change of direction from players). On one such drill, Carter backpedaled, shifting to each side, but was caught leaning to his left when the ball was thrown to his right. No problem: without altering his direction or the momentum of his body, Carter reached out behind him and snatched the pass with his one hand. There are a lot of receivers and tight ends in the NFL who couldn't make that catch.

• It's quite possible that no position has a clearer pecking order than quarterback, but starter Tony Romo didn't have a good day in terms of his accuracy. He missed on several passes, both overthrowing and underthrowing. On one, he stepped up into the pocket to avoid a rush, turned to throw to a receiver in the left flat and fired the ball straight down, almost as if he was spiking it after a touchdown or at least as if the defensive player had hit him and thrown him off balance. More than likely, the ball slipped … but it sure looked odd.

• Rookie RB Lance Dunbar faces an uphill battle to make the roster of a team that already has veterans DeMarco Murray and Felix Jones, as well as Phillip Tanner and Darrell Scott trying to crack the rotation. But the diminutive (5-8, 191) undrafted rookie out of North Texas doesn't look like he intends to make it easy to cut him. He has shown excellent hands out of the backfield, and is an elusive spinning style when threading his way through traffic at the line of scrimmage.

• Four players were notable by their absence: S Matt Johnson still can't take part because classes at Eastern Washington aren't entirely finished; G Mackenzy Bernadeau is recovering from hip surgery; WR Danny Coale is out of his protective boot but still walking gingerly after having surgery to have a screw placed in the broken fifth metatarsal bone in his left foot; and NT Jay Ratliff remained out with a sore neck.

• There have been those in the past who raised questions about WR Dez Bryant's practice habits when he first arrived from Oklahoma State, specifically about his willingness to block. Based on the reaction of DE Jason Hatcher after getting chipped by Bryant, it looks like he's willing to throw his body in the way of oncoming defenders, even those who have four inches and 84 pounds on him.

RB DeMarco Murray said after last week's OTAs that he is done talking about the ankle injury that ended his 2011 season prematurely, insisting the ankle is fine. If Tuesday's practice was any indication, he was telling the truth. Murray cut sharply, but also showed the burst to get to the sideline repeatedly and turn upfield, outrunning defensive backs along the sideline.

RB Phillip Tanner and WRs Kevin Ogletree and Cole Beasley took turns fielding kickoffs. None dropped a kick, although Ogletree did have to "re-catch" a couple that hit his shoulder pads on the way in to his arms.

• Fielding punts: WRs Dez Bryant and Dwayne Harris as well as RB Lance Dunbar and … RB DeMarco Murray.

• One of the undrafted free agents homing to make the team is WR Saalim Hakim. In 11-on-11 drills, he made a nice catch on a crossing route, streaking between two linebackers to make the grab, drawing howls of approval from his teammates. But the positive vibes quickly changed, as he had the ball stripped from his arms as he headed toward the sideline.

OT Jeremy Parnell appears to be a significant part of the Cowboys plan on the offensive line. Offensive line coach Bill Callahan has raved about Parnell's size (6-6, 305), length and athleticism, and in Tuesday's session, Parnell got a lot of reps at both right and left tackle, with a lot of individual instruction during one-on-one drills.

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