Day III: Rookie Mini-camp Insider

At rookie mini-camps like the one held this weekend at Valley Ranch, rookies -- in an effort to impress their new coaches -- often try to do everything at top speed.

Perhaps there are times when some things should be taken down a gear. In an early-morning drill, UFA TE Tony Curtis broke out of his stance and charged upfield … flattening new Dallas TEs coach Paul Pasqualoni. The hustle was admirable, but Pasqualoni might have been more impressed had Curtis flattened a linebacker, instead.

• Rookies are judged on more than just their height, weight and 40-yard dash times (see all the converted track stars who get signed in the hopes that their blistering speed will translate to a slew of long touchdowns, but flame out because of a lack of actual football ability). RB Marion Barber III drew praise from assistant head coach Sean Payton Sunday morning, not for his speed or strength, but for his progress from Saturday -- having showed ample evidence that he'd learned the plays Payton taught the day before -- and for his sense of timing that allow him to wait for his blocks before crashing into the line.

• Since the weekend mini-camp was held without pads, drills were not run at full speed, and contact was minimal. The standard scraps between players also were nearly non-existent. One player who did show a fiery side was UFA ILB Mike Goolsby (Notre Dame). During a skeleton drill, Goolsby took exception to what he viewed as holding by UFA OL Harvey Dahl (Nevada). Goolsby turned back to Dahl after the play, swatting away the blocker's arm. On each of the next two plays, Goolsby got irate, apparently convinced that Dahl was putting a little too much into his blocking. Each time, Goolsby had words for the lineman, and he continued to go after Dahl (who appeared largely uninterested in what Goolsby had to say). At that point, LBs coach Gary Gibbs had seen enough, not-so-subtly reminding Goolsby to quit going after Dahl, and to return his focus to the drill and his responsibilities within the drill. Seemed to work -- Goolsby and Dahl had no more post-play tangles for the rest of the day.

• Head coach Bill Parcells is the master of downplaying the performance of rookies, usually remaining stingy with his praise, even when player has a breakout rookie season, as RB Julius Jones did last year. Brand-new rookies -- whether draftees or free agents -- often get dismissed as unprepared kids who just aren't ready to contribute (even when he knows that's not the case). But when UFA RB Tyson Thompson (San Jose State) bounced outside of the designed running lane (which was clogged up by fallen players), and then hurdled over two fallen linemen to get to the outside, Parcells issued a rare public compliment, howling "someone's starting to look like a running back!" When it comes to rookies, that is a big Parcells compliment.

• Seeking greater returns? For the first two days of the mini-camp, three players -- RB Marion Barber, RB Tyson Thompson and WR Jamaica Rector (Northwest Missouri State) -- ran kick return drills. In Sunday's session, two more players tried their luck as return men: WR Reggie Harrell (TCU) and WR Tom Crowder (Arkansas).

• One of the more interesting matchups of the day was between DE Marcus Spears (LSU) and UFA OT Sam Wilder (Colorado). Even when they were lined up on opposite ends of the line of scrimmage, the two seemed to find each other. One one play, the 6-foot-4, 307-pound Spears chased the ball carrier laterally across the field, where he ran face-first into the 6-5, 305-pound Wilder in a jarring collision that undoubtedly would have been far more comfortable for the players if they'd been wearing full pads.

• Coaches all say they want players with speed (which, it's repeatedly pointed out, can not be taught). Top draft choice DeMarcus Ware, whose absurd speed for his OLB/DE speed prompted the Cowboys to take him with the 11th selection in the draft, lined up against massive OT Rob Petitti. At the snap of the ball, Ware burst off the line, charging to the outside before employing a spin move … and coming face to face with Petitti. Ware is lightyears ahead of Petitti on the speed scale, but Petitti continues to show streng footwork and technique (in addition to his size, which -- as coaches also like to remind -- also can not be taught).

Matt Tarullo likely will be moved from center to guard when the full team reports for camp, but at center, he more than held his own, dominating an an assortment of interior defensive linemen, including Spears, DT Jay Ratliff (Auburn) and DT Thomas Johnson (Middle Tennessee State.

• Some things happen to undrafted free agents that never would happen to top draft picks. For instance: UFA OL Harvey Dahl felt the love when he found the nameplate above his locker had his name spelled "DAUL." Even though the players were wearing jerseys without names across the back (and helmets without stars), UFA LB Roger Cooper (Montana State) was prepared with proof, in case someone forgot the spelling of his name: he has "COOPER" tattooed across his shoulders. Now all he needs is his number (50) tattooed on his chest and back, and he could play the NFL's first version of "shirts and skins."

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