Saturday afternoon camp insider

SAN ANTONIO - More insider news and notes as The Ranch Report takes you behind the scenes at training camp.

Less special: When the Cowboys opened practice with special teams drills Saturday afternoon, just two players — WR Patrick Crayton and RB Felix Jones — fielded punts. It likely doesn't mean that CB Mike Jenkins and WR Willie Reid are out of the running for the role, but they weren't in the rotation today. Crayton continued to field punts flawlessly, while Jones dropped one and bobbled a couple more, as he has in previous sessions.

Missing in action: DT Tim Anderson (toe) and LB Stephen Hodge (calf) remained on the sidelines, working with trainers as they rehab their injuries. In addition, WR Isaiah Stanback sat out the practice with a "strained — not pulled" hamstring, and rookie OT Michael Turkovich is out for a few days with what was called a mild knee strain. WR Julian Hawkins took most of Stanback's snaps, while LT Doug Free held down his second-team spot and worked with the third team in Turkovich's spot.

Bombs away: P Mat McBriar is a Pro Bowler not only because of the distance he generates on his punts, but also because of the hangtime he gets with his extraordinarily high punts. He hit a couple Saturday afternoon that approached the 110-foot roof of the Alamodome, and looked like they likely would have hit the team's new stadium's gigantic video board, the bottom of which hangs 90 feet over the field. Should a punt hit the video board at Cowboys Stadium, it will be ruled a "dead play" and will be played over.

Just drop it: Training camp is not the time for young free agents to drop passes if they hope to crack the wide receiver rotation. With Roy Williams, Patrick Crayton and Miles Austin assured of spots, and Sam Hurd and Isaiah Stanback likely to claim two more, there might be one spot up for grabs (so to speak) between a group of young receivers that includes Willie Reid, Julian Hawkins, Manuel Johnson, Kevin Ogletree, Mike Jefferson and reality TV winner Jesse Holley. Two stood out Saturday, for opposite reasons. Jefferson dropped several catchable passes (even drawing boos from the fans in attendance), while Hawkins made an array of impressive grabs, including a leaping, twisting one-handed grab on a ball that was thrown behind him and a diving snag of a low fastball from Jon Kitna that Hawkins pulled in between three defenders.

Early leader? The depth chart is far from being settled at positions that aren't already locked up, and few, if any, have drawn more attention than right cornerback, where second-year CBs Orlando Scandrick and Mike Jenkins are battling for the starting spot across from LCB Terence Newman. For Saturday afternoon, at least, Scandrick worked with the first team, while Jenkins ran with the second team.

Turning it loose: When the Cowboys drafted former Texas A&M QB Stephen McGee in April, some skeptics wondered about the wisdom of drafting a player who ran a run-heavy college offense, and about McGee's arm strength. The Dallas scouts obviously did their homework, however, as McGee has shown excellent throwing mechanics, and has unveiled better arm strength than many believed he had. McGee connected on several long passes Saturday, including a touchdown strike of about 55 yards to WR Willie Reid in the back of the end zone that had a lot of heat on it. His accuracy and velocity have been one of the pleasant surprises of the early part of training camp.

Nose for the ball: Rookie S Mike Hamlin continues to impress with his understanding of the defense and his ball skills. He didn't come up with an interception Saturday afternoon, but was constantly around the ball and broke up a number of passes with excellent coverage.

Catch of the day: If one of the Cowboys' rookies is going to beat out WR Sam Hurd for a roster spot, he certainly isn't giving up his job without a fight. Hurd has made a number of acrobatic catches in the first week of camp, perhaps none moreso than a grab he made Saturday. Hurd raced across the middle of the field on a crossing route after a pass from QB Tony Romo to the left sideline, dove while going full speed and laid out fully extended to snatch the ball just before it hit the Alamodome turf. He might have been just out of bounds (hard to say from the media's vantage point across the field), but it was a sensational grab, nonetheless.

Advantage, Crayton: When the team broke into 7-on-7 drills, the first play was a deep pass down the right sideline toward WR Patrick Crayton, who cut back to meet Romo's slightly underthrown pass and beat CB Terence Newman to make the grab. While the crowd roared its approval, Crayton got up and spun the ball at Newman's feet. It was merely playful teasing between friends, though — Newman didn't appear upset at all at what some speculated could be deemed "showing him up."

Catch him if you can: Head coach Wade Phillips has made no secret of the team's plans to move RB Felix Jones around to create multiple ways to get him the ball in open space. In Saturday's practice, he lined up at RB, in the slot and as a wide receiver. One play run when he was split out wide consisted of him coming around behind the quarterback on a fake end-around, after which Romo handed the ball off to RB Tashard Choice on a draw play. The formation surely will make defensive coordinators anxious, as they will have to account for Jones' speed and open-field running ability, potentially leaving their defenses a little soft up the middle.

Use it if you've got it: TE John Phillips is one of several candidates vying for the third TE spot behind Jason Witten and Martellus Bennett. In addition to practicing as a backup deep snapper, Phillips showed Saturday he understands one skill that can make him an effective pass target: using his big (6-5, 251) frame to protect the ball from defenders. On one play, he ran a simple route straight downfield, and as the ball arrived, so did CB Alan Ball. Phillips jumped, turned his body into Ball and reached out with his long arms to snag the ball at the highest possible point. There are few, if any, DBs in the league who can break up a pass when a target as big as Phillips uses his body as a protective shield and makes a reception that high in the air.

That's a wrap: Practice ended with one of the best defensive plays of the day, when QB Rudy Carpenter looked for TE Scott Chandler streaking toward the corner of the end zone. But new SS Gerald Sensabaugh shadowed Chandler tightly, and broke on the ball at the last second, wrapping around in front of Chandler to knock the ball to the ground.

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