VISIBLE BY THEIR ABSENCE: The optional team activities (OTAs) are just that — optional … sort of like changing the oil in your car is optional. You don't have to do it, but it's generally a really good idea. Jimmy Johnson was the first to make it clear that the word "optional" was only listed because the NFL said that's the name of these sessions, and made it clear that he was aware of which players didn't show up.
A handful of players are absent this week, whether it's because of injury, contract dispute, or as was the case with Roy Williams last week, vacation. Missing from Wednesday's session (or at least very well hidden): rookie punter Jay Ottovegio, rookie wide receiver Mark Bradford, cornerback Adam "Pacman" Jones, safety Ken Hamlin and outside linebacker Greg Ellis.
LOOKS CAN BE DECEIVING: New linebacker Zach Thomas is listed at 5-foot-11 and 228 pounds. No way — if he's 5-11, then Tony Romo is about the same height as Dirk Nowitzki. When he stood next to Bradie James, whose listed height of 6-2 is pretty close to accurate, the difference is more than three inches. The 13th-year veteran from Texas Tech looks like a fire hydrant: short, squatty and impossible to move.
However, anyone who thinks the old man can't cover some ground is mistaken. He'll never be a sprinter in the mold of DeMarcus Ware, but he moves extremely well, and was around the ball all day, from one sideline to the other. If the Cowboys' medical staff can keep him from getting knocked loopy with his battering-ram playing style, they just might have pulled off a real heist with the addition of Thomas.
TAKING AIM WITH BOTH BARRELS: When the Cowboys drafted tight end Martellus Bennett out of Texas A&M, speculation swirled that offensive coordinator Jason Garrett was locked away in his basement, working up ways to deploy two tight ends to take advantage of the talents of Bennett and Pro Bowler Jason Witten. That might well be the plan, as the offense worked on a new look with two tight ends — except it was Witten and Tony Curtis — broken out wide on the same side.
It's not unusual for a team to deploy two tight ends on the same side, but generally that scheme uses a faster tight end (i.e. Witten) as basically an oversized wide receiver, with the other tight end left inside as an extra blocker. In Wednesday's sessions, Witten and Curtis were lined up side-by-side, about two feet apart from each other, and ran a series of routes in which they cut behind each other, presumably in an effort to make defenders run into each other. If they can iron out the wrinkles in this setup, the possibilities are numerous.
SOMEONE'S LISTENING: Speaking of Bennett, remember the rookie mini-camp, when he got lambasted by coaches for breaking off routes instead of finishing them with strong sprints to the end zone? Someone got his attention. He still didn't catch everything thrown his way Wednesday, but when he did, he tucked it and headed toward the end zone every time.
LINE UP! There weren't any surprises in the personnel on the first-team offensive and defensive lines. On offense, the starting five remained the same quintet that started last year: LT Flozell Adams, LG Kyle Kosier, C Andre Gurode, RG Leonard Davis and RT Marc Colombo. The second unit had LT Doug Free, LG James Marten, C Cory Proctor, RG Joe Berger and RT Pat McQuistan. On defense, the first-team unit was as expected: LE Marcus Spears, NT Jay Ratliff and RE Chris Canty. Running with the second team was LE Stephen Bowen, NT Tank Johnson and RE Jason Hatcher.
HAVES AND HAVE NOTS: RB Marion Barber was at Valley Ranch with his teammates Wednesday, with the ink still drying on that fat new contract he signed with the team last week. He went through drills, but nobody touched him all day, and he laughed with teammates and coaches between drills. Backup Alonzo Coleman, on the other hand, ran like Barber does in the waning moments of a close game with the Cowboys nursing a small lead: violently.
Coleman plowed through teammates with both arms wrapped around the ball and his legs churning, initiating plenty of contact with defenders (and probably even blockers). Perhaps he didn't notice that nobody was wearing pads, or the sign on the door that reminded players that there was to be "no contact" and that the sessions were for teaching purposes. If he didn't notice that, he also likely didn't notice that the sign was authored by … Wade Phillips.
Stay tuned for Part II- which will be released on TheRanchReport.com later this evening!
OTA Notes & Observations (PART I)
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