M*A*S*H unit: The number of players sitting out of practice grew significantly this week. Among those watching practice Thursday were LG Kyle Kosier, DE Jason Hatcher and TE Rodney Hannah, who didn't participate in last week's OTA. New faces on the sideline included CB Terence Newman, LB Justin Rogers, WR Sam Hurd, S Courtney Brown, WR Miles Austin and FB Deon Anderson. Most injuries weren't explained immediately, although Newman's injury (he did take part in some light position drills) was described as a thigh contusion. Rogers said after practice that he had tendonitis in his knee, but said it was minor and he expects to take part next week.
Trying to catch on: Perhaps the wind at Carrollton's Standridge Stadium was partially to blame, but special teams coach Joe DeCamillis was none too pleased with the returners' inability to field punts during special teams drills at the beginning of practice. Rookie S DeAngelo Smith dropped several punts, and caught two more only because he was able to reach over his head and stab the ball out of the air, and RB Felix Jones dropped the only one directed at him. Smith, in particular, got an earful from DeCamillis for putting the ball on the ground.
Back … at half speed: P Mat McBriar was back at practice after missing (at least the Tuesday session) in last week's OTA, and again trotted gingerly around the field in sneakers. After practice, he slipped on his kicking cleats and bombed several long, high punts, but clearly the foot he broke last year is still somewhat tender.
Up and down: It's a minor detail to the casual observer, but part of the art of throwing deep passes on the sideline is the quarterback's ability to "turn the ball over," so the nose of the ball follows the intended receiver and points down after reaching it's peak, increasing the passer's ability to drop the ball over his receiver's outside shoulder where either the receiver can make the catch or nobody will. Starter Tony Romo was the best at "turning the ball over" consistently, regardless of whether the wind was at his back or in his face (which makes it much more difficult), followed by Jon Kitna and Stephen McGee, while Rudy Carpenter's passes remained pointed upward the whole way. Not coincidentally, the first three were more accurate than Carpenter on drills that called for passes of 20 or more yards down the sideline.
Wildcat unleashed: Prior to the NFL Draft in April, owner Jerry Jones indicated the Cowboys might select a player to run the "Wildcat" formation popularized last season by the Miami Dolphins. But when Dallas didn't grab either of two players considered the best-suited to run the formation — West Virginia QB Pat White or Rice do-everything HB James Casey — it was presumed that Jones might have been offering the standard pre-draft smokescreen that teams float out before every draft. As it turns out, Jones was serious when he suggested the team might incorporate the Wildcat formation in its offensive scheme this year, as the media got its first glance at the package Thursday morning.
WR Patrick Crayton lined up at QB in the formation, and mostly handed the ball off, although he was heckled by teammates and coaches when his lone pass out of the formation skipped off the turf in front of TE Martellus Bennett, who wasn't even 10 yards away. The other interesting wrinkle was that Tony Romo was lined up wide left as a receiver. Keep in mind, there were three receivers (Austin, Hurd and Travis Wilson) missing from practice, so Romo might have been split out wide simply to have an extra body out there, or it might be because the team plans to include a play that involves a long lateral pass to Romo, who then could take off running or step back and throw downfield. If nothing else, the formation would require the defense to account for the possibility.
Get a grip: Newly-signed TE Scott Chandler runs more upright than TEs coach Jon Garrett wanted, but showed good hands in position drills, while rookie free agent Jamar Hunt dropped several catchable passes. Second-year TE Martellus Bennett had his ups and downs, making several nice grabs and dropping a few that hit him in the numbers or the hands.
Look, Ma — one hand: One of the nicest grabs of the day came in a simple drill in which the QBs swung screen passes to RBs coming out of the backfield. On one play, Kitna floated a toss (that admittedly might have been affected by a considerable headwind) that floated a little behind RB Alonzo Coleman as he started to turn upfield. Without breaking stride, Coleman calmly reached behind himself with his left hand and snagged the pass as he raced upfield.
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