INSIDER: Mini-camp News and Notes

CARROLLTON, Tex. - The Cowboys closed out their mini-camp with a pair of practices Wednesday in the blastfurnace that is North Texas this week at Carrollton's Standridge Stadium.

Living up to the hype? When the Cowboys made OLB Jason Williams their top draft pick in the third round of April's NFL Draft, the selection was greeted by a resounding "who?" from many fans and members of the media, largely because Williams played at Western Illinois, which isn't exactly a regular on the national television schedule. But when he was drafted, Cowboys officials said that the primary reason Williams was picked was his speed, and his wheels are starting to show in workouts. At WIU, Williams was a speed pass rusher and had a knack for being around the ball — he tied the all-time NCAA record for fumble recoveries in a college career — and showed Wednesday that he is pretty adept in pass coverage, too.

He easily stayed with TEs and RBs out of the backfield, and even kept up with some WRs on crossing routes. When he shadowed WR Mike Jefferson across the field and dove in front of him to knock away a pass from QB Jon Kitna during Wednesday's morning session, teammates howled in approval. The first person to greet him with a congratulatory handshake after he got to his feet: head coach Wade Phillips.

Several players look to be in better physical condition than in years past, perhaps none more than RB Marion Barber.

Branching out: In his first three seasons, LB Bobby Carpenter has been used largely as a backup ILB, in addition to his special teams duties. But he got considerable work Wednesday at OLB, rushing the QB off the edge from the left side. On consecutive plays, he blew past rookie OT Robert Brewster on a free sprint to the passer. When starting RT Marc Colombo returned to the field, Carpenter was less effective, but still generated pressure.

Fast Rat: Fifth-year DL Jay Ratliff was viewed as merely a throw-in selection in the 2005 draft after more celebrated defensive draft picks DeMarcus Ware and Marcus Spears. But last year, Ratliff turned himself from afterthought to blossoming star, becoming one of the elite interior linemen in the entire NFL, and he showed why again Wednesday, blowing through the offensive line repeatedly in full-team scrimmage drills. There were several plays on which it looked like the blockers didn't even get a hand on Ratliff, which is extraordinary for an interior lineman.

Matter of perspective: After the morning session, DL Marcus Spears loudly proclaimed that the defense was "dominating" the offense — an assessment he shared in part because some of the offensive linemen were walking past him during interviews. He was right that the defense got the better of the offense in the morning session, thanks in part to three interceptions from the secondary, but also in part because of numerous dropped passes. The offense improved considerably in the afternoon session, but there still were far more dropped passes than the coaches wanted to see. Among the repeat offenders: WR Mike Jefferson, RB Keon Lattimore and TE John Phillips.

Shaping up: Several players look to be in better physical condition than in years past, perhaps none more than RB Marion Barber. Always one of the team's most finely conditioned athletes, Barber looks even more chiseled and bulkier through his arms and chest than before. But one team official said he actually has lost a few pounds off his listed 225, despite the additional muscle mass.

Catch of the day: No contest — toward the end of the morning practice, Kitna fired a deep out route toward WR Patrick Crayton, who was double-covered by DBs Courtney Brown and Patrick Watkins. Just before the ball arrived, the 6-5 Watkins cut inside of Crayton — who is listed at 6-0 but looks more than five inches shorter — and leaped high into the air and stretched every inch of his long arms to make the catch … and got both feet in bounds.

Catch of the day — honorable mention: In the afternoon session, WR Mike Jefferson ran a post route on the left side. As he broke toward the center of the field, he might have heard footsteps, because he pulled back his hands, as if to avoid contact. Instead of making the grab, he deflected the ball up in the air, where CB Mike Mickens snatched it with one hand.

Jon Kitna has looked sharp in his brief time with the Cowboys.

Back to work: Free agent DE Igor Olshansky has missed workouts this week with a strained back, but was back on the field Wednesday afternoon. He didn't take part any drills with the other DLs, instead doing a lot of push-ups and stretches on the side of the field, and then watching the team drills.

Crash course: Just about every player was one of the best — if not the best player on his college team, and therefore many arrive in the NFL with a heavy dose of confidence. But two of the Cowboys' rookie LBs got a taste of the difference between being a good athlete who starred in college and being a Pro Bowler. On consecutive plays in the afternoon session, TE Jason Witten drove that point home. On the first, he was assigned to block blitzing OLB Jason Williams. Not only did Williams get nowhere near the pocket, much less the QB, Witten nearly bent Williams in half — backward. Apparently it looked more painful than it was, as Williams hopped up and showed no pain, but backs aren't meant to bend that way. On the next play, Witten caught a pass on a quick out route. As he turned up field, he froze OLB Brandon Williams with a subtle shoulder fake before sprinting to the sideline and turning upfield. Williams got his feet back under him and scrambled to recover, but by that time, Witten was long gone up the sideline.

Nine-ish: When the Cowboys selected QB Stephen "Mox" McGee out of Texas A&M in April's draft, owner Jerry Jones said McGee had "nine-ish" qualities, meaning he had some of the same athleticism and playground style that have made starting QB Tony Romo a regular on national highlight shows. In the afternoon session, McGee was running the offense when the pocket collapsed around him. He stepped forward into the pocket, and calmly pitched a shovel pass through the line of scrimmage to rookie FB Asaph Schwapp. The free agent dropped the pass, even though it hit him in the hands, but the play showed some of the improvisational ability that Jones said he liked about the former Aggie passer.

And the original: Much of the afternoon session was dedicated to full-team scrimmage-style drills, and Romo showed the kind of play-making ability for which he is famous. On one play, he bobbled the shotgun snap, scooped it off the ground, and fired a pass between DBs Terence Newman and Mike Jenkins and into the waiting arms of WR Jefferson in the back of the end zone.

Heckling the leader: OLB DeMarcus Ware showed up at the afternoon practice with a new "C" on the right side of his chest, like those worn by captains in hockey. Ware is immensely popular with his teammates, but that didn't prevent normally soft-spoken OG Leonard Davis from heckling Ware about his new designation … from all the way across the field.

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