• How special: More than ever, coaches look for players with the versatility to fill multiple roles, and that often involves various duties on special teams. With limited roster space and teams watching every dollar spent under the salary cap, players who can play more than one position have a much better shot of making the team than a player of comparable talent who is a specialist. With that in mind, it appears rookie TE John Phillips might have a leg up on some of his competitors for the third tight end position, as he was working on deep snapping before practice. He was extremely accurate, getting the ball back to P Mat McBriar with exceptional velocity and accuracy.
• Bombs away: The Cowboys' selection of USC kicker David Buehler in the April raised some eyebrows from many, because the team already has a young, strong-legged kicker who has been to the Pro Bowl in Nick Folk. But the selection was explained by the idea that Buehler was viewed, at least initially, as a kickoff specialist because of his bionic leg strength. That power was on display in Thursday morning's practice. Buehler kicked field goals at the beginning of practice with Folk, and put on a show, drilling 45- and 50-yard field goals that not only went through the goalposts, but crossed the crossbar at the very top of the pipes, including one that nearly cleared the net behind the goalposts. Folk's leg is very strong, but Buehler has an absolute cannon, and should be an effective kickoff specialist and depending on his accuracy, appears to be a very viable backup on field goals if Folk should get injured.
• Lighten up: Head coach Wade Phillips said in Wednesday's press conference that while the team would don full pads and begin hitting Thursday, the Cowboys wouldn't be hitting "too hard." Apparently not everyone got the message. Terence Newman was one of several players returning punts during the special teams session, and when he drifted to his left to field a punt (which he dropped), he got drilled by fullback Deon Anderson, and came up wincing and shaking his left hand. It appeared Anderson didn't mean to hit Newman that hard, but that didn't help him escape the wrath of coaches and players, who objected to Anderson hitting Newman, who has struggled with injuries over the last two seasons. Newman shook off the collision and returned to the drill shortly thereafter.
• Power surge: When the defensive line went to work against a blocking sled, linemen paired up to drive the sled — with defensive line coach Todd Grantham aboard — backward. As the players drove, Grantham barked out instructions — a lesson that was interrupted only when defensive ends Jason Hatcher and Igor Olshansky nearly flipped the sled over with their acceleration.
• Line up: It's far too early to determine a depth chart, but the offensive line depth — which owner Jerry Jones said Tuesday is one of the areas he sees as a key question in this year's training camp — is starting to take shape. The starting five is set in stone: LT Flozell Adams, LG Kyle Kosier, C Andre Gurode, RG Leonard Davis and RT Marc Colombo. The second-string line Thursday morning consisted of LT Doug Free, LG Montrae Holland, C Cory Proctor, RG Ryan Gibbons and RT Pat McQuistan. The third unit, at least for now, was made up of LT Mickael Turkovich, LG Greg Isdaner, C Proctor, RG Travis Bright and RT McQuistan.
• Catching on: The beginning of Thursday's morning practice was marked by several dropped passes, but the receivers eventually warmed up. Miles Austin made several nice catches, including one when the ball was thrown a few feet behind him on a deep crossing route, which he was able to grab while twisting, sliding and reaching behind him … and a catch he made in tight triple coverage.
• Stay with it: When WR Mike Jefferson and CB Michael Hawkins matched up in a passing drill on a deep out route, the two got their feet tangled up. Jefferson fell to the ground, but Hawkins — while falling over Jefferson — kept his head up and was able to twist his body enough to stretch a hand out and knock the ball harmlessly to the ground. Hawkins is trying to work his way into a crowded secondary that includes three 2009 draft choices (Mike Mickens, DeAngelo Smith and Mike Hamlin), but he has looked very good in the team's first two practices.
• Hang on: Players and coaches alike have overflowed with excitement about the return to good health of explosive RB Felix Jones, and have talked at length about the versatility he brings to the offense. Jones has elite speed and elusiveness, and presents a major challenge for defenders who try to stay with him. Rookie Victor Butler, a DE at Oregon State who is trying to make the team at LB, found one way to avoid chasing Jones, stripping the ball clean from Jones after the second-year RB caught a quick screen pass and heading upfield. DeMarcus Ware, Bradie James, Keith Brooking and Anthony Spencer appear nearly assured of starting roles, and former first-round pick Bobby Carpenter appears likely to stick as a versatile reserve, and the team drafted three linebackers, and the team drafted three players — Butler, Jason Williams and Brandon Williams — to compete with guys like Justin Rogers and Matt Stewart for backup roles. Creating takeaways is one way for youngsters like Butler to catch the coaches' eyes.
Thursday morning camp insider
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