It's still early — very early — but here are five surprises (in no particular order) from the first week of the Cowboys' training camp in San Antonio:
Martellus Bennett: During his rookie season, Bennett's talent was obvious. He's huge (6-6, 265) has decent speed for a big man, has hands the size of manhole covers and has the athleticism to sometimes make extraordinary receptions. But he also showed wildly inconsistent effort in practice, and sometimes seemed about as interested in blocking as he would be in leading cheers for the Texas Longhorns (Bennett, of course, played collegiately at Texas A&M). In this year's camp, however, Bennett has been very impressive. He has run most of his routes very hard, has been a more consistent receiver through apparent increased concentration, and has been absolutely dominant in blocking drills. He nearly broke a sled on one drill, and has flipped players around like ragdolls. If he can make that focus and intensity even more consistent, he could develop into the weapon Dallas coaches and teammates envision when they dream about the mismatches the Cowboys could create by running two-tight end sets with Bennett and Pro Bowler Jason Witten.
Stephen McGee: The perception most had of McGee when he was drafted (also out of Texas A&M) was that he is an exceptional athlete who is limited as a passer. When running the Aggie offense, he did a lot of just that — running — and the focus of the passing game was on short and intermediate routes. But McGee has shown a much stronger and more accurate arm than expected. His throwing mechanics are pretty solid, he drops back very quickly and sets his feet well, and he has consistently fired strikes to receivers 40 and 50 yards downfield. His arm might not be quite as strong — yet — as Tony Romo's or Jon Kitna's, but it's a lot stronger than it ever looked in college.
Victor Butler: Butler is one of those guys who is hoping to earn a spot on the Dallas roster by making the transition from college defensive end to NFL linebacker, and so far, he has been very impressive. Since joining the team this spring, he has been a constant shadow and student of DeMarcus Ware, and his inquisitive nature seems to be paying off. He looks comfortable rushing the passer from a stand-up (linebacker) stance, and has been around the ball constantly, knocking down passes in coverage drills and stripping the ball from teammates to generate fumbles.
Mike Hamlin: Like Butler, Hamlin is one of those guys who always seems to be around the ball. He has picked up the Cowboys' defensive system pretty quickly, and has made some spectacular interceptions. Head coach Wade Phillips said this week that Hamlin's interceptions haven't necessarily been a surprise, because he has what Phillips called "spectacular hands … Everson Walls-type hands." He won't challenge for a starting job, but for a rookie, he should be a more-than-capable backup. He needs to grow into his frame a little more, and sharpen up his performance on special teams, but he appears to be one of those safeties who instinctively finds himself in the right place at the right time, and when he is, he has as good a chance as anyone on the field to come up with interceptions.
Mat McBriar: To see the Pro Bowler launching punts into orbit isn't a surprise, until you remember that he suffered a nasty injury to his right (kicking) foot in last season's loss to the Arizona Cardinals. What is a surprise is that McBriar is the only punter in camp. Nobody expected a youngster to come in and take McBriar's job, but with the money invested in the 30-year-old, who remains careful running on his once-injured foot, most felt the team would bring in another punter merely to lighten his workload in training camp. After watching him approach the 110-foot roof of the Alamodome with some of his punts this week, however, it's apparent that McBriar very well could reclaim his status as one of the NFL's elite punters.
Top five surprises of training camp
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