Insider camp news & observations

SAN ANTONIO - The Cowboys took the field Wednesday at the Alamodome in jerseys, shorts and helmets (no pads) in front of an enthusiastic crowd of fans for their first practice of training camp.

Most of the team appeared before the 2:15 p.m. starting time as the session opened with special teams work. Arriving a few minutes later — to loud ovations from the crowd — were some of the offensive starters, including TE Jason Witten, RB Marion Barber and QB Tony Romo.

New QB candidate: OK, so Romo, Jon Kitna and the rest of the Dallas QBs don't exactly need to sweat about their roster spots, but it was interesting to see the Cowboys working on fake punts within five minutes of the start of their first practice. On successive plays, P Mat McBriar took the snap and rolled out to throw the ball. On the first one, he rolled to his left and hit TE Rodney Hannah with a soft 10-yard toss. On the next, he rolled to his right and fired a 12-yard pass with a little more velocity to TE Jason Witten. Neither evoked images of a Troy Aikman fastball, or even Danny White throwing from the shotgun, but both passes were tight spirals and on target.

All accounted for: Everyone on the roster was in attendance. The only players who didn't participate were DT Tim Anderson (toe) and LB Stephen Hodge (calf). Hodge and injured OL Robert Brewster are the only Dallas draft picks who have yet to reach contractual agreements with the team. Players who missed time during OTAs and mini-camp, but were back on the field today, included LG Kyle Kosier, LB Justin Rogers, WR Sam Hurd and Hannah.

Nice backhands: The defensive backs were put through a drill in which they ran away from a "quarterback" (coach), who threw balls to either side of them, with the idea that they turn at the last second, react to the ball in flight and make interceptions. The two rookies from Cincinnati, Mike Mickens and DeAngelo Smith, made particularly impressive one-handed, backhanded snags.

Shotgun accuracy: QB Tony Romo wasn't as accurate Wednesday as he usually is. On the first play of the team's 7-on-7 drills, he missed an open Jason Witten by 10 feet, and misfired on several other intermediate and long passes. Late in the afternoon, WR Roy Williams got behind the defense and had nobody within 10 yards of him, and Romo missed him by a mile (although the way Romo reacted, it appeared he might have thought Williams was running a different route). He responded after airmailing the ball over Williams, hitting rookie WR Manuel Johnson with a 40-yard strike on a post pattern two plays later.

Ball Hawk: Free agent cornerback Michael Hawkins was in on two of the best defensive plays of the day. Early on in the 7-on-7 drills, he shadowed WR Mike Jefferson on a deep post route, and kept his eyes on the passer … when the ball was thrown behind Jefferson, Hawkins adjusted, stepping in behind Jefferson, tipping the ball up in the air and making a lunging interception. Later in the practice, he ran step-for-step with Sam Hurd on a deep route over the middle and tipped the ball away, allowing rookie S Mike Hamlin to make a diving interception.

Fight for it: Isaiah Stanback is one of the strongest WRs on the team, and showed it Wednesday. On one play, he ran a straight fly pattern down the left sideline. When the ball was badly underthrown, he turned around, raced back and used his size and strength to fight through Mickens to make the catch. Not only was he able to use his long arms to reach out and snatch the ball when it looked like it was headed right into Mickens' mitts, he also was able to force his body in between Mickens and the ball and shield the ball from the would-be defender. That's the kind of play a big WR has to make, and Stanback hasn't always done that as he learned to play WR after playing QB in college.

Remember them? Among those in attendance at Wednesday's practice: former Cowboy stars Daryl Johnston and Michael Irvin.

Nice insurance: Yes, it was just one practice, and nobody is suggesting the starting QB job is up for debate, but while Romo misfired a few passes, backup Jon Kitna looked exceptionally accurate. But Kitna also wasn't perfect: one of the biggest ovations of the day came when he hit Stanback with a 50-yard touchdown pass, but what the fans might have missed is that Stanback had to come to a complete stop waiting for the pass. First of all, he needs to learn to come back to the ball and catch it at its highest possible point, and secondly, Kitna has to get the ball there earlier. If he throws that pass against a live defense, it gets either picked off or knocked to the ground if Stanback doesn't simply out-muscle a defender for the ball.

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