Welcome back: There were some familiar faces at Valley Ranch for Friday's first day of mini-camp. Dave Campo, of course, has rejoined the staff and looks leaner and healthier. Also in attendance were former Dallas cornerback Larry Brown and former special teams coach Joe Avezzano.
First-day jitters? Tight end Martellus Bennett, who the Cowboys drafted out of Texas A&M, had his moments Friday, including several nice receptions on crossing routes over the middle in the morning and a beautiful diving grab at the sideline, when he kept both feet down and laid out with full extension to snag a pass inches off the ground. The ball was maybe seven or eight feet out of bounds when Bennett made the grab, and he happened to make the snag right in front of offensive coordinator Jason Garrett, who praised Bennett for his grab. But Bennett also had his struggles:
• In the morning session, he caught several passes and turned back toward the huddle, drawing repeated demands from coaches to "Finish! Finish!"
• He dropped more passes than he should have, even passes that hit him right in the hands.
• He didn't adjust well to the ball if a pass didn't hit him between the numbers on his No. 80 jersey. On one crossing route in the afternoon, the pass was barely behind him – more like directly over his head – and Bennett didn't adjust his pace and didn't really turn his body to reach for the ball. Instead, he reached one massive paw up in the air and swiped at the ball, but ended up popping it straight up in the air before falling incomplete.
• Halfway through the afternoon practice session, he was stretched out flat on his back, getting his right leg stretched by a member of the team's training staff. After resting briefly, he returned to the drills with his teammates and ran a few routes, but pulled up after one with his hand on his right hamstring. There wasn't much time left in practice, but he didn't return to the field.
Bombs away: Former Stanford punter Jay Ottovegio is considered a longshot to take Mat McBriar's job, but it's not like they grabbed someone off the street and threw him out on the practice field. When the team convened on one practice field for full-team drills (either offense/defense or special teams), Ottovegio took over the adjacent field, booming high, tight-spiraling punts downfield. More importantly, he seems to have mastered the art of "turning the ball over" so the front end of the ball comes down first. Turning the ball over, rather than letting it flutter with the back end landing first, is crucial in downing punts deep in enemy territory.
Old-timers: Several one-year veterans were in attendance. Players who were on the Dallas roster or practice squad last year were quarterback Richard Bartel and tight end Rodney Hannah, both of whom looked impressive. Others who either played or tried out with other NFL teams included running back Alonzo Coleman (5-9, 202 – Hampton), linebacker Tearrius George (6-4, 270 – Kansas State), cornerback Justin Phinisee (5-11, 199 – Oregon) and defensive end Marcus Smith (6-4, 286 – Arizona).
Good hands award: Rodney Hannah looked solid all day, and despite his inconsistencies Martellus Bennett had his moments, but it was another tight end who made the catch of the day. Drew Atchison, a 6-foot-6, 247-pound free-agent rookie from William & Mary looked solid all day, picking up the pass routes quickly and showing excellent hands all day. He might have opened a few more eyes in the morning session when he ran a simple out route, about 10-12 yards downfield from the line of scrimmage. When he turned toward the sideline, he got slowed up when safety Dowayne Davis (6-0, 202), a rookie from Syracuse, slammed into him, knocking him backward. As he fell, Atchison leaned over to his right and reached his left hand up in the air, hauling in the pass from a prone position, drawing howls of approval from teammates and coaches alike.
Separating from the pack: Rookies often talk about learning from the veterans at their positions, and first-year pros Atchison and Bennett would do well to pay attention to Hannnah, who clearly learned last year from Jason Witten in Hannah's first year in the NFL. Like a seasoned veteran, Hannah used his 6-foot-6, 255-pound frame to shield would-be defenders from the ball. Davis repeatedly got matched up against Hannah during the afternoon drills, and there were times when it looked like Davis could have 10-foot arms and he still wouldn't be able to reach the ball.
Got you covered: At least for a day, the Cowboys found someone who can cover, and he didn't even cost the team a draft choice: linebacker Alain Karatepeyan, a free agent from Tulsa, did a terrific job in coverage, shadowing running backs and tight ends downfield. On one play, he smothered running back Keon Lattimore (5-11, 222 – Maryland) so closely that the would-be target didn't even bother reaching for the ball. Karatepeyan also showed surprising closing speed. At one point, top draft pick Felix Jones beat Karatepeyan with an out-and-up move, and Karatepeyan caught up in time to knock the ball away. No, he does not have Jones' pure speed, but when Jones had to wait just slightly for the ball, Karatepeyan got there in a hurry.
Diamond in the rough? Teams love to discover a player in their free agent pool who is such a pleasant surprise the team has no choice but to keep him. But there's a reason some players are drafted and some get brought in as free agents, and subsequently, such finds are rare, and obviously one day is not a fair indicator of a player's full talent. But if Friday is an indication, one such player just might be at a position where the Cowboys definitely have a need: wide receiver Danny Amendola (5-11, 183 – Texas Tech). Often compared to another relatively short Texas Tech graduate, Wes Welker, Amendola ran the most precise routes all day, and shook first-round draft choice Mike Jenkins several times to make receptions, and caught every pass thrown in his vicinity — every single one. He's not a Terry Glenn-like sprinter, but he has excellent hands.
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