Rookie Mini-camp Insider

IRVING, TX. - It's finally here! News, notes and observations you won't find anywhere else on today's rookie mini-camp.

The Dallas Cowboys welcomed a collection of rookies and second-year players to Valley Ranch Friday for the first day of their first three- day mini-camp. The Dallas coaches put the players through a series of drills, from throwing and catching to blocking and fielding punts. Some notable items:

• One of Bill Parcells' mantras is the elimination of mistakes. On the first series of skeleton offense drills, two players invited on a weekend tryout basis -- quarterback Nick Noce (Arkansas State) and running back Demetrius Summers (South Carolina) flubbed the exchange on an inside running play, drawing the ire of several coaches who were looking on. Several coaches preached the importance of the exchange, and the need for attention to detail.

• Offensive tackle Pat McQuistan (Weber State) was anything but a household name when the Cowboys plucked him from Weber (Utah) State University in the seventh round of last weekend's draft. But the 6- foot-6, 214-pounder already has begun to establish an identity. With his untamed mane of wild red hair, one teammate dubbed him "CarrotTop's big, ugly brother."

• Inside linebacker prospects D.D. Lee (SMU), Kai Parham (Virginia) and Oliver Hoyte (N.C. State) went through extensive drills to determine each player's strength and power. Two players held a large foam pad, while the third exploded into both. Hoyte appeared to be by far the most powerful of the three.

• The most imposing figure on the practice field was free agent offensive tackle Dennis Roland (Georgia), who at 6-foot-9 is the only player under contract who could call Flozell Adams, Jason Fabini and Chris Canty -- each of whom stands 6-foot-7 -- "Shorty." For such an enormous blocker (Roland is listed at a svelte 309 pounds), Roland appeared fairly quick, and moves his feet well to maintain his balance and remain firmly over his center of gravity.

• One player who caught a repeated earful from coaches was wide receiver Miles Austin (Monmouth College). Three times he reached for a pass with one hand, dropping the pass each time and hearing it from the Dallas coaches. He also caught a pass on a crossing route, and cut back across the field to avoid defenders .... prompting another lecture from receivers coach Todd Haley, who reminded Austin in no uncertain terms that the best way to score points is to "go north- south, not east-west." At 6-foot-3 and 219 pounds, Austin has the size to turn up field and take on defenders. Against bigger defensive backs, like Pat Watkins (Florida State), Austin struggled to break press coverage and watched as the ball sailed untouched out of bounds.

• Wide receivers and running backs will be scrutinized for their catching ability, but perhaps the catch of the day was turned in by safety Darrell Brooks (Arizona), who backpedaled during drills with the defensive backs, cut toward the sidelines before leaping into the air to make a sensational "interception." With the majority of his body over the sideline, Brooks had the presence of mind to extend his feet back inbounds, getting both feet down within the boundaries of the field. Runner-up for the catch of the day: wide receiver J.R. Tolver (San Diego State), who out-leaped Watkins to make a twisting, one-handed catch near the sideline.

• It's hard to determine in these mini-camps just how well players tackle, because they aren't wearing pads and therefore are not hitting each other very hard. Bun on three consecutive plays, receivers made catches in front of cornerback Marcus King (Missouri) and shrugged him off as he tried to steer them out of bounds or at least wrap them up.

• Speculation that return specialist Skyler Green (LSU) can't play wide receiver in the NFL might not necessarily be valid. Green showed excellent hands in passing drills, snatching the ball and pulling it in to his body, rather than simply catching against his body. On one play, he ran a crossing route and reached behind him to snag an errant pass, pulling the ball in and continuing to run without even the slightest glitch in his quick, compact stride.

• Quarterback Jeff Mroz (Yale) doesn't have the bazooka-like arm featured by Drew Bledsoe, or even the arm strength of Drew Henson. However, the 6-foot-5, 230-pound Ivy Leaguer has a high release and his tight spirals are delivered with terrific accuracy. Mroz bears a striking resemblance to new San Francisco quarterback Trent Dilfer.

• Three players -- Green, holdover wide receiver Jamaica Rector (Northwest Missouri State) and Byron Parker (Tulane) -- worked after practice on fielding punts. Rector and Green appeared completely comfortable, while Parker had Parcells riding him to get into position more quickly to make the catch. However, in a subsequent drill in which Parcells threw footballs into the air and the return specialist candidates had to catch them without dropping the previous balls, Parker was the first to catch six with dropping a single ball.


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