OTA Notes & Observations (PART II)

IRVING, TX. - The optional team activities (OTAs) are just that — optional … sort of like changing the oil in your car is optional.

BACK TO THE FUTURE: With Greg Ellis not taking part, the team rolled out a starting linebacker foursome of (left to right) OLB Anthony Spencer, ILB Bradie James, ILB Zach Thomas and OLB DeMarcus Ware. The second unit consisted of OLB Tearrius George, ILB Kevin Burnett, ILB Tyson Smith and OLB Justin Rogers.

LISTEN WHEN I'M TALKING TO YOU: Dave Campo is one of the most vocal assistant coaches on the Dallas practice field. On one drill, the offense lined up at the (opposing) 6-yard line, prompting Campo to bark out instructions to the defense to "keep them out of the end zone." More specifically, Campo said, "watch out for the cross (crossing route)." Like clockwork, TE Tony Curtis ran a crossing route across the goal line, and caught the touchdown pass in front of rookie ILB Alain Karatepeyan. Campo uttered a few pearls of wisdom that can't be printed on this website and immediately replaced Karatepeyan in the next drill.

GOT ANY ELIGIBILITY LEFT? It's safe to say they weren't trolling for recruits, but the coaching staff from Baylor University was at practice Wednesday morning. The only coach missing was head coach Art Briles … which was a little strange, since his daughter, Jancy, is on the Cowboys media relations staff.

LISTEN! PART II: The team went through coverage drills for special teams, and the message coaches repeatedly hammered home was for the coverage team to keep containment, forcing the returner to turn up the center of the field. Second-year CB Alan Ball twice lost containment, allowing the ball-carrier to get outside and subsequently drawing the wrath of coaches.

TO SERVE AND PROTECT: One common misperception about blocking for punters is that teams will roll out their biggest linemen and create a wall in front of the punter that looks like Stonehenge in helmets. But unlike field goals and extra points, where the blockers don't have to cover any ground, blockers on the punt team have to keep the punter from getting hit and the punt from getting blocker, and then get downfield to make the tackle, so they have to be strong but they also have to be able to run. Louis-Phillippe Ladouceur is pretty well locked in as the team's long snapper, but the coaches are toying with different combinations of players around him as they strive to keep Mat McBriar's uniform clean all season. The first-string punt-protection line Wednesday was (left to right) Kevin Burnett, Anthony Spencer, Ladouceur, Justin Rogers and Bobby Carpenter, with tight ends Tony Curtis and Martellus Bennett offset behind Burnett and Carpenter, respectively. The second unit had rookie Erik Walden, Khari Long, Ladouceur, Tearrius George and Keon Lattimore, with WR Mike Jefferson and RB Tashard Choice offset behind the two ends of the line.

DEFENSIVE PLAY OF THE DAY: The best defensive play Wednesday was made by — not against — WR Terrell Owens, who cut across the back of the end zone waiting for a pass from QB Tony Romo. Safety Courtney Brown stepped in front of the pass and appeared to make the interception … until Owens reached in and threw Brown to the ground. Brown drew praise from Campo for breaking up the would-be touchdown, but Owens made sure there was no interception.

CATCH OF THE DAY: TE Tony Curtis ran a quick slant over the middle and lunged for a Romo pass that was a bit low and out in front of him. He got his hands under the ball, flipped it up in the air, swatted at it a couple of times and then pulled it in — with one hand.

PASS OF THE DAY: Lest anyone think Romo was off the mark all day Wednesday, he wasn't. Moments after Curtis did his juggling act in the end zone, Romo arched a beautiful, high pass into the back corner of the end zone. Rookie CB Mike Jenkins had good position and ran step-for-step with WR Sam Hurd, but the ball was placed where either Hurd would get it or it would fall harmlessly out of bounds. Hurd leaped high and used every inch of his 6-foot-2 frame to pull it in for the touchdown.

NEAR MISS OF THE DAY: The Cowboys' defense, like many others, allows for assignments to be switched, sometimes leaving linebackers chasing wide receivers, etc. On one such route, OLB Anthony Spencer found himself one-on-one with WR Sam Hurd. Spencer read the play and jumped the route, and almost made a interception of a Tony Romo pass on the sideline … but dropped the ball as he ran out of bounds. Even without the interception, it was excellent coverage.

FOLLOW THE TANK: When Dallas signed DT Tank Johnson last year, there were plenty of skeptics who said it was a bad move for the team, citing his history of off-field issues when he was with the Chicago Bears. They suggested that owner Jerry Jones was letting the team revert back to its renegade style in of the early 1990s in the hopes that allowing any stellar athlete to join the team, regardless of character, would bring Lombardi Trophies to Valley Ranch. Well, Johnson stayed on the straight and narrow last year, and now is acting as if he not only wants more playing time, but even a leadership role. All day Wednesday, Johnson was in on a lot of plays (they weren't really tackling, without pads), chasing plays downfield, helping teammates up and constantly urging them to hurry to the huddle faster to get more plays in during practice — hardly the normal approach for a guy some call "lazy."

THEN WHO'S SENIOR? There's no clever commentary here, other than to say that free agent DT Junior Siavii is absolutely enormous. The third-year player from Oregon is listed at 6-5, 330, yet he somehow looks lean. He looks taller than that, has exceptionall wide shoulders and very long — but thick — arms. If he had the girth of, say, now-departed Jason Ferguson, he might weigh 500 pounds. He didn't take part in a lot of drills, so it's hard to say what he can and can't do, but he sure looks the part.

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