Friday afternoon training camp insider

SAN ANTONIO - The Cowboys took the field at the Alamodome again Friday afternoon in pads, and had what head coach Wade Phillips called "a more physical practice" than Thursday's two practices.

"The players are getting used to the pads again," he said, "and it was a crisp practice — pretty violent, in some respects, and I was glad to see that."

On the mend: The two players on the team's Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) List, defensive tackle Tim Anderson (toe) and linebacker Stephen Hodge (calf) stretched with the team, but again spent the day working with associate athletic trainer Britt Brown, doing a lot of resistance drills in which they ran, cut and jumped while tethered to Brown via a 10-yard elastic cord. Phillips said after practice that Anderson might be back for the team's third or fourth preseason game, while Hodge could return as soon as Monday.

Quick as a Rat: Not only is NT Jay Ratliff one of the NFL's most talented interior defensive linemen, he also is arguably the quickest player at his position in the entire league. But in addition to his pure speed, Ratliff also has a keen understanding of leverage and technique. The defensive linemen went through a drill Friday in which they lined up in front of three foam dummies, and were assigned to practice their pass-rushing moves by jarring the dummy with one hand and then smacking it to the side while they race by. Ratliff took it one step further, slapping the dummy backward as he accelerated past it. It's a subtle difference, but when coupled with his rare speed at the position, it makes a difference. Substitute an offensive lineman for the foam dummy, and Ratliff's technique allows him to get behind the blocker, rather than beside him, increasing the distance the blocker would have to cover to protect his quarterback.

Catch first, then run: Four players rotated as punt returners during special teams drills: CB Terence Newman, WR Willie Reid, RB Felix Jones and WR Patrick Crayton (who replaced CB Mike Jenkins in the rotation). Newman, Reid and Crayton caught the ball flawlessly, while Jones muffed three and nearly dropped a fourth, juggling it a couple of times before snagging it.

Building block-er: During his rookie season, TE Martellus Bennett showed good athleticism and excellent — albeit inconsistent — ability as a receiver, but was somewhat suspect as a blocker. That part of his game is still a work in progress, but it clearly is something he has worked on, as was evident when the tight ends worked against a one-man blocking sled. A year ago, Bennett's idea of hitting the sled looked a little like a center in basketball playing defense in the low post: get one arm up and sort of lean on it, and hope the sled doesn't push back too hard. But in Friday's drills, he exploded into the sled repeatedly, nearly flipping it over a couple of times (which would translate to lifting a defensive end or linebacker virtually off the ground, or at least ruining his balance and acceleration) and hitting it so hard it appeared the sled's hinges might break.

Explosive power: There's a lot more to being an NFL wide receiver than 40-yard dash times. One trait scouts covet in a receiver is explosive leaping ability, so he not only can reach high passes, but also has the strength to battle DBs in the air. WR Miles Austin has very good speed, but he also might be the best leaper of the WRs in camp. Several times, when deep and crossing routes, Austin was able to stop on a dime, shoot straight up in the air and easily out-leap would-be defenders for high passes.

Planning a surprise: K David Buehler is known to have a very strong leg, but he showed surprising polish when working on onside kicks under the watchful eye of head coach Wade Phillips. His first one bounced out of bounds about a yard short of going the required 10 yards, but the rest of his attempts were identical, getting the desired high bounce and coming down right by the sideline, a couple of feet over the line 10 yards ahead of the line of scrimmage.

Austin's powers: The starting offense and defense went head-to-head Friday, and offered some rather impressive matchups, including a couple featuring WR Miles Austin.

• Austin and CB Terence Newman ran so closely together and scrapped so hard for position that it appeared they were fighting while running at top speed. Austin made a few catches, but Newman knocked the ball away, or at least kept him from getting in position to make the reception, on more than half of the plays.

• While Austin had his hands full with Newman, he had better luck on the other side of the field. On one play, he ran a deep out route, and sold CB Mike Jenkins that he was going deep so convincingly that Jenkins turned and headed upfield … allowing Austin a nice 10-yard cushion to make the reception on the sideline.

Rudy! Rudy!: After an inauspicious debut Thursday that included a couple of fumbles and erratic passing, QB Rudy Carpenter looked much better Friday, looking much more accurate, especially on several deep touchdown passes. He hooked up with WR Mike Jefferson after Jefferson blew past CB Mike Mickens, and later threw a perfect 45-yard strike over the shoulder of Crayton, who had smoked S Courtney Brown with an out-and-up move.

Running wild: LBs Victor Butler and Jason Williams might have been the beasts of their college defenses, but they learned Friday that tackling an NFL running back is an entirely different story. The two rookies, who weigh a combined 486 pounds, seemed to have a stranglehold on RB Marion Barber on one running play, only to watch Barber rip his way out of their grasp and take off upfield.

Catch of the day: There were a few candidates, but the honor probably should go to WR Sam Hurd on a play that few even noticed. Hurd ran a simple 10-yard comeback route, and when he jumped to make the catch, he was drilled in the back by CB Mike Jenkins, well before the ball even arrived … and somehow maintained his focus to make the catch.

Interception of the day: Hurd's catch actually should be referred to as the "offensive catch of the day." The best overall catch clearly was turned in by rookie S Mike Hamlin. Covering in a passing drill, the ball sailed a few feet behind Hamlin, who was able to reach behind himself, tip it about 10 feet up in the air, twist his body, dive and make a fantastic one-handed interception just inches off the turf.

In his post-practice press conference, Phillips sounded impressed, but clearly not that surprised, by Hamlin's grab.

"He has great hands, Everson Walls-kind of hands, just spectacular hands," Phillips said. "If he can get there, we expect him to make those plays."

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