Reporting as it should be.
While not navigating the Oxnard sidelines, here's what week one of camp looked like from balmy Dallas, Texas. Let's see if a few miles of distance cast any shadows of reality. An observation from the homeland, if you will.
Mike Vanderjagt. Slowly he's becoming more of the story and subject of the punch lines than fellow free agent Terrell Owens. It's the first week of training camp (yes, training camp for God's sakes), and the masses are in an uproar because the kicker missed a single practice and is nowhere near his 87% lifetime conversion rate. Was it mentioned this is the first week of training camp? Relax people. You're far too starved for stories and championships.
Concerning Vanderjagt, here's the only things you need to know and watch closely. 1) Can he handle kick-off duties? If not, Parcells has a dilemma on his hands. This team is far too talented and deep to sacrifice a roster spot for a kick-off specialist. If you're spending this kind of money for a place kicker, he better come with all the options and accessories. 2) Can he and Tony Romo develop a trust and rapport? This is vital. Vanderjagt is currently the recipient of a "heavy hold." Laugh if you must, but this is highly common when a kicker transitions from a punter (Indianapolis) holder to a quarterback holder. If you've never been involved in either role, don't argue. Quarterbacks focus on getting the ball down and turned. Kickers, to include punters, are all about the pressure applied. The less resistance, the more control, and range, the kicker exhibits. Go ahead, keep laughing.
This is an issue. One that Bruce DeHaven has to be bold enough to tell Parcells, "I need more of Romo's time." Before, during or after practice. Who cares when, but it has to happen. Why do most kickers excel at golf? Feel and rhythm. If anyone understands this, it's Tony Romo. The boy, when it comes to the links, is "scratch." He needs to return the favor, make himself available, and stop reading all the press clippings on how he's going to be the next Eddie LeBaron. It takes commitment and practice time. If this trend continues, it's either on DeHaven for not standing up or on Parcells for blowing it off. Eliminate the "heavy hold," and the Vanderjagt worries will diminish as fast as his stomach bug.
Defense vs. Offense. This one is almost too comical to address. Not to diminish the importance of the offensive line as it relates to this year's success or failure, but tap the brakes. The first week has been filled with defensive dominance and offensive futility. So? When isn't this the case in all NFL camps? Especially week one!! If the order was reversed, offense dominating defense, then send up a flare. If any NFL offense dominates a NFL defense at this time of the year, it's going to be a very long year for that particular organization. Bank it.
What is the defense doing besides pinning their ears back and applying pressure? Their natural athletic ability, speed and strength are on full-scale display. Nothing more. They're not actually scheming and thinking at this point. Don't for one-minute think Parcells hasn't instructed Mike Zimmer, "Give us all you've got. Bring it." Yes, there are big questions on the offensive line, and it's contested they are "the key" to this year, but they're not overmatched or being run out of the gym. The offense, because of timing and familiarity, will slowly catch up.
Center. This thing has to be sorted out in short order. Whether it be the new-and-approved Andre Gurode or Al Johnson, just pick one. Now. The two-headed monster is again out of control. Well, Johnson is a better 4-3 center, and Gurode is a 3-4 guy because he can handle the big uglies. Bull snot. Get a center that can play. In all situations! This is no different than the ol' adage of having two good quarterbacks. It means you really have none. Yes, LeCharles Bentley would have been a huge monetary loss knowing what we know today, but the reasoning would have been sound.
Listen, there are two things at play here. Calling the right blocking schemes and executing a flawless QB exchange. Most nothing else matters. Get a guy who can do both consistently, and let's roll. It's Bledsoe who will ultimately suffer if the indecision at center continues. Ordain a starter and go.
T.O. Watch. Even the beloved Ranch Report is guilty as charged. Can it be dispensed with? Every freaking medium has a T.O. watch or update element. Enough already. Report it if and when it happens. It being the blow up anticipated by all. Do we really need to know if Owens earned his knot-tying merit badge or helped a beat writer across the street? Don't know about you folks, but he's paid to catch passes, move the chains, and on occasion, find the end zone. The rest is just high cheese and fluff.
Throwing passes to Sam Hurd is neither complete transformation nor news. Save it. There is only one Terrell Owens story to watch. How will he adjust to this offensive scheme? It'll require something he's had very little of in the previous venues. Patience. Terrell Owens and patience, acquiring it or lack thereof, is the only story worthy of column margins. The rest is the Jerry Jones' craved Hollywood side of the business. When it comes to Owens, can everyone just stick to football?
Back-up Quarterback. Oh, the mind games of Bill Parcells. They never stop. From this seat, it's loved at every level and turn. From a player's perspective, especially those named Romo and Henson, it has to be torture of the highest order. The current Romo build up is as much of a test for Romo as it is for Henson. Care to guess Henson's biggest flaw? Sensitivity. Showing your emotions outwardly. To Parcells, this resembles dangling raw sirloin in front of a starved safari lion. Like a cheetah running down the three-legged or wounded wildebeest. Not a pleasant sight. This little game is called "can Henson take it?" Parcells can't handle mental weakness or deficiencies.
No way, barring a Bledsoe injury, does Romo get all he's being promised of getting. Not even close. The game as it pertains to Romo? See if his ego and patience can handle being built up beyond expectations, and then stick a pin in the inflated balloon. What will it do to the kid? Coach, but you said………….
And if you're Henson? Can you mentally pull yourself back on the horse? Can you combat the ultimate in horses' asses? How tough are you? Stay tuned. Egos, personalities and feelings are about to be tested and will be on competitive display for the whole world to see. The sharks are circling for the feeding frenzy.
Anthony Henry. Why mince words? The key to the 2006 campaign. No, not single-handedly, but he's the designated barometer for this year. As great as he was playing the first half of last year, it's believed he over-exerted himself into injury. Huh? Anthony Henry came to the Cowboys riding a rookie reputation (interception numbers) and a huge contract. Any pressure and expectations there? Was the microscope big enough? He didn't disappoint, but he may have pushed himself too far.
Year two allows him to play within himself. Forget the money. The scheme has been learned, and he can now anticipate what and where his 10 defensive mates will be. No more over thinking the situations and applying personal pressure. He needs to let the game come to him instead of having to make something happen at every turn. There will be "up front" pressure this year, so he and Brother Newman, need to sit back and wait for mistakes to unfold. Henry will be the #1 reason behind Terence Newman making his first trip to Hawaii. Anthony, relax and have some fun. Last year's pressure is off.
Roy Re-Upped. Another Jones family marvel. Did it have to be done now? No, it wasn't as paramount as getting Jason Witten signed before the season commenced, but it's an added bonus. Someone (are you listening Jerry Jones back-pocket boy?) needs to document, in book form, the Jerry Jones' transformation as NFL Owner. It's been quite a ride let alone a tremendous story. The message sent to this young team, with these two signings, and Bradie James yet to come, speaks volumes and resonates throughout a very influential locker room. You want buy-in from your players? Exhibit and demonstrate commitment. Right Terrell Owens? Roy, it's your team. Good to have you in the saddle for years to come. Now, go rattle a few cages and rock a few worlds.
Aikman and Wright. A tremendous weekend for Cowboys' fans everywhere. It's hoped everyone will take in the Canton festivities and pay homage to two pillars of organizational success. Two highly deserved honors. One tremendously overdue, and the other right on time. Hats off to Rayfield Wright and Troy Aikman. The Cowboys' Nation is most proud of your efforts, dedication and commitment to the storied fame and history of the greatest organization in professional sports. How's that for homerism? Glorified, but true.
More than anything, these two are grateful, humble and true professionals. On and off the field of play. Thus, the reason why Cowboys' Faithful should feel proud and touched by the Hall of Fame proceedings this weekend. These times don't come around often. Bask in the glory and give thanks to two gentlemen and stewards of the game. Troy and Rayfield, well done. Well done indeed. Congratulations!
Again, the skies may be cloudy, but that's how things are viewed from the Mother Ship.