Cowboys add two … Cowboys: Two new players were on the field Tuesday for the team's only practice of the day. Former Oklahoma State wide receiver Willie Reid (5-10, 192) — trying to make the team for his fourth NFL season — was signed Monday, and another former OSU Cowboy, punter Matt Fodge, was brought in for a tryout, but has not signed a contract.
Not playing hurt: All teams are cautious with injured players at this time of year — whether they're young players hoping to crack a roster for the first time, or veterans nursing lingering injuries from the previous season — and the Cowboys are no exception. Eleven players were held out of Tuesday's session: WR Isaiah Stanback (recovering from arthroscopic knee surgery to clean up cartilage in his knee after the team's first OTA), LB Justin Rogers (knee tendonitis), LB Stephen Hodge (calf strain), LG Kyle Kosier (foot), TE Rodney Hannah (finger), RB Felix Jones (who bruised his calf in practice Monday), WR Miles Austin (hamstring), WR Sam Hurd (quadriceps), WR Kevin Ogletree (knee strain), DT Tim Anderson (toe surgery) and DE Igor Olshansky (back strain). Most are presumed to be minor injuries. Rogers said he is feeling better, and will be "ready to roll" when the team heads to training camp. Hodge, Austin, Jones, Hurd, Ogletree and Olshansky, at least, are also expected to be ready for training camp.
Ball Hawk: Fourth-year veteran Michael Hawkins is trying to crack the CB rotation, and had a strong practice Tuesday. On three successive plays, he dove in front of a receiver to knock away a pass at the sideline, shadowed TE Martellus Bennett so closely he forced Bennett out of bounds after a one-yard gain, and then burst forward from the secondary so quickly he was able to "tackle" (actually tag, since the players weren't in pads) RB Tashard Choice before he got to the line of scrimmage on a sweep to the right side.
Finish what you start: CB Orlando Scandrick had a solid practice overall, but also drew the ire of secondary coach Dave Campo. When QB Jon Kitna fired a deep pass down the middle of the field into triple coverage, Scandrick jumped in front of WR Mike Jefferson and leaped to make the interception, but despite being in good position to make the play, watched the ball bounce off his hands and fall to the turf. While Campo scolded Scandrick for not finishing the would-be interception, FS Ken Hamlin told Scandrick "we'll put it on your tab" … a debt Scandrick paid with push-ups the next time he left the field. Yes, it was just one play in a mid-June mini-camp practice, but on a team that had just one player — CB Terence Newman — who had more than one interception last season (Newman had four), increasing takeaways is a high priority.
Line up: Olshansky's strained back took a presumed starter out of Tuesday's practice, but when the team went into scrimmage-style drills, fourth-year veteran Stephen Bowen stepped into Olshansky's spot with the first-team defensive line that also included DE Marcus Spears and NT Jay Ratliff. Jason Hatcher worked with the second-team line that also featured NT Junior Siavii and DE Marcus Dixon.
Line up — Part II: With Kosier still sidelined while rehabbing the foot injury that cost him much of last season, LG Montrae Holland again worked with the first-team offensive line that also included normal starters LT Flozell Adams, C Andre Gurode, RG Leonard Davis and RT Marc Colombo. The second unit consisted of LT Ryan Gibbons, LG Cory Proctor, C Matt Spanos, RG Pat McQuistan and RT Doug Free. Four players — LT Michael Turkovich, LG Greg Isdaner, (no center), RG Travis Bright and RT Robert Brewster — made up the third "line."
On target: The most accurate passer of the day appeared to be QB Jon Kitna, who drilled crisp, accurate passes on short and intermediate routes, and showed impressive accuracy on deep balls, both into the wind and with the wind at his back. Perhaps his best pass of the day came early in the morning session, when he floated a 40-yard pass over the outside shoulder of WR Manuel Johnson, who was able to keep his feet in bounds while making the catch in front of CB Mike Mickens.
Talking trash: The offense got the better of the defense in Monday's practice, but when the offense put together consecutive impressive drives Tuesday morning, WR Patrick Crayton turned toward the east sideline of Standridge Stadium, where head coach Wade Phillips stood with the defense. "Coach Phillips!" Crayton woofed, "the defense is still on the bus! What's going on?"
Tight formation: When the team worked on its goal-line offense, Pro Bowl TE Jason Witten lined up in the backfield in a split-RBs formation across from RB Tashard Choice. It's an alignment from which Witten could go in motion on various play-action plays, but in Tuesday's session, he mostly stayed in the backfield to offer extra protection for the QBs.
Experience matters: While coaches and scouts like QBs with a high release point that allows them to maximize their arm strength and accuracy, the speed and unpredictability of the game dictates that passers must, on occasion, be able to modify their delivery. For example, LB Bradie James blitzed on several plays on one drive late in the morning practice. As he came around the right corner, Kitna got him up in the air with a pump fake, and then calmly dipped his shoulder, slinging a sidearm bullet to RB Alonzo Coleman. Moments later, James came around the left end toward replacement QB Stephen McGee, who tried to rush the pass over James' outstretched paws, only to watch it get knocked to the ground.
Trying to catch on: One of the most interesting position battles this summer will be at the WR spot. Roy Williams and Miles Austin are absolute locks, and many assume Patrick Crayton is assured of a spot, as well. Beyond that, Isaiah Stanback and Sam Hurd have a leg up on the competition, if only because of the familiarity with the system afforded to them by their experience with the team. But depending on whether the Cowboys carry five or six receivers on their 2009 roster, those two are not guaranteed roster spots and are competing with an army of youngsters for the final spots. Tuesday's practice featured an incomplete cast, with Stanback, Austin, Hurd and Ogletree hobbled with varied injuries, and while it was just one practice, two players made contrasting impressions Tuesday: newly-signed Mike Jefferson dropped several catchable passes and was scolded by WRs coach Ray Sherman for slowing up on a couple of deep routes instead of running through them to make the reception, while seventh-round draft choice Manuel Johnson made a slew of impressive grabs. On one late drive, in which the team was working on the two-minute offense, Johnson made catches on three consecutive plays, beating 2008 first-round pick Mike Jenkins on two of them.
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