Building blocks: The top two TEs on the Dallas roster were determined long before training camp started. Jason Witten ends every season in Honolulu in the Pro Bowl, and Martellus Bennett, while inconsistent and erratic, has the tools to be a solid pro. But if Dallas carries three at the position, as the Cowboys usually do, who will get the last spot? Too close to call at this point, but the decision likely will come down to special teams and blocking ability. Rodney Hannah is the best athlete of the trio that also includes draftee John Phillips and free agent Scott Chandler, and while Hannah, like Bennett, is a much better blocker than he was a year ago, he is like Phillips and Chandler in the sense that he still stands too upright for TEs coach Jon Garrett's liking when blocking. This is a race that might come down to the last day of camp, and performances in preseason games. It's unlikely that the team will keep only two, even with one stashed away on the practice squad.
When the team broke down into position groups, the TEs took a break from their work with the blocking sled to go one-on-one with the LBs. Some highlights:
• Bennett has clearly become a vastly improved blocker since last season, but there's a difference between being better than last year and being ready to take on all challengers. To wit: When he lined up against any of the rookie LBs, Bennett held his ground and turned the LB away without letting him anywhere near the QB (played by a team manager). When he paired up with all-world OLB DeMarcus Ware, Bennett was shown he still has some improving to do, as Ware blazed by him three straight times — once on a speed rush, once with a bull rush and once with a spin move.
• Phillips has looked good on special teams, including getting a little work as an emergency deep snapper, but he struggled in blocking drills, as Brandon Williams and Justin Rogers threw him to the ground on consecutive plays and breezed through to the QB.
• Hannah not only held his ground against OLB Victor Butler, he actually became the aggressor. While most of the TEs emulated an OT, standing up into a protective stance and waiting for the LB to instigate contact, Hannah burst out of the snap, standing Butler upright and driving him backward.
• On his next turn through the rotation, however, Butler appeared to have learned from the experience. Matched up this time on Witten, Butler locked arms with Witten and flung him to the ground en route to the QB.
Seen, but barely heard: Training camp is one week old, and LBs coach Reggie Herring's voice is shot. It has been for days, actually, which makes it difficult for one of the most vocal members of the staff. Herring is not the kind of guy who calls a player over to him to critique a technique or the way the player lined up — he's a constant yeller who barks instructions at players from sideline to sideline. But for several days now, his voice is almost inaudible, other than scratches and squeaks … imagine someone with laryngitis screaming over a public address system. Very strange sound, and hard to believe the LBs can understand everything he says.
Getting better: WR Roy Williams has made some spectacular catches in the first week of camp, but also has been woefully inconsistent. His performance in Wednesday morning's practice was a distinct improvement, however. Not only did he make some more highlight-reel catches, including an over-the-shoulder grab after smoking a DB with an out-and-up move, but he also made the catch on routine plays — all of them. Williams, Miles Austin and Sam Hurd were outstanding Wednesday morning. Of course, for Austin and Hurd, that has become the norm in the first week.
Time is short: Backup QB Jon Kitna looked very smooth and poised while running the two-minute offense Wednesday morning. He made his calls quickly, checked in and out of plays calmly at the line of scrimmage and his passes were on target. He hooked up with Hurd on the play of the morning, as Hurd ran a deep post route and stretched out behind his defender and made a full-extension, diving catch.
Two ends on a line: The Cowboys worked on a lot of two-TE sets this morning, with Witten moving all over the place, lining up wide or in the slot on both sides of the field, as well as his customary station at the end of the line. He didn't always get the ball, but the more different ways he lines up, the more opposing defenses will have to plan for him.
Count them out: It's not exactly the equivalent of throwing touchdown passes, but Kitna is the master of the hard count, repeatedly drawing defensive players offsides with his uneven cadences throughout the first week of camp. Of course, he also has induced a few offensive players to jump prematurely, too, but if he gets into any games, it's a safe bet that he'll be able to pick up a first down or two without ever touching the ball.
MVP?: Much of the attention this offseason has gone to the three-headed rushing attack of Marion Barber, Felix Jones and Tashard Choice, and with good reason — that trio will be the basis of the Dallas offense this year. But where would the team be without TE Jason Witten? Last year, Dallas QBs completed 60.0 (OK, 59.96) percent of their passes, and if there is a more reliable receiver anywhere than Witten, it's hard to say who it is. The man just doesn't drop passes thrown in his direction, and has made leaping, twisted one-handed grabs every day in practice, and often makes them look easy.
Wednesday morning camp insider
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