The Cowboys held what almost was two practices in one Thursday afternoon: the first half amounted to an extended walk-through, with extensive stretching and no hitting of any kind.
The second half, which included on-field officials for the first time, was dedicated largely to goal-line and short-yardage offense that turned the line of scrimmage into a meat grinder.
So far, so good: A lot of important things are accomplished in training camp every year with every team. But more important than any position battle or player development story are these:
• No major injuries
• No contract holdouts
• No off-field drama or incidents
Knock on wood — this streak needs to continue.
Hair today …: One of the more amusing annual rites of passage took place in the last 24 hours: the haircuts rookie offensive linemen receive (er … get voluntarily). Travis Bright has a bizarre configuration that looks like a rectangle of hair across the back of his head, with a quarter-sized dot of hair up front. Newly-signed Andre Douglas has his head shaven clean, with the exception of a huge "70" across the back (anyone want to guess who his barber might have been?) Greg Isdaner ias the top of his head shaved clean, leaving just a big ring around the sides and back — picture a blond version of Jason Alexander's "George Costanza" character on Seinfeld. The most significant chop job was showed off by injured tackle Robert Brewster, who has the center of his head — on the front, on top and all the way down the back — shaved, leaving just a strip of hair on each side of his head. What made his trim more significant was the fact that Brewster showed up at training camp with short dreadlocks, meaning that once he shaves the rest off, it will take much longer to grow it back to where it was.
Power play: Most of the second half of practice was spent on short-yardage and goal-line offense/defense drills. The first six plays — and 24 of the first 25 — of the team's 11-on-11 drills were running plays as the linemen teed off on each other as hard as they have yet in camp. Some notable plays:
• Everyone from Jerry Jones to Wade Phillips to Tony Romo has talked about how the offense will expand in 2009 if fleet RB Felix Jones can stay healthy. The Cowboys finished the 2008 season with two strong runners, in Marion Barber and Tashard Choice, but the shifty Jones has an extra gear that will allow the offense to unveil a series of new options. But one of the most impressive plays Thursday came when Jones took a pitch and headed left on a sweep. OLB DeMarcus Ware shed his blocker and chased Jones, actually gaining ground on Jones before forcing him out of bounds. For all of his tenacity and pass-rushing moves, that absurd speed and acceleration is what makes Ware the defensive weapon that he is.
• When the line of scrimmage moved to right outside the end zone, Marion Barber showed why he is one of the most powerful inside runners in the league, scoring on all but one of his draw plays up the middle. The highlight was one play in which he drove LBs Bradie James Bobby Carpenter — who weigh a combined 495 pounds — backward into the end zone.
Back to earth?: TE Martellus Bennett is a lot of things: a young, exuberant, sometimes-flaky manchild among his teammates; an enormous, athletic target for the Dallas passing game; a dramatically improved blocker over his ability from last year.
But he clearly is learning as he matures. A year ago, he infuriated some observers by showing enormous talent — he has the size and hands to make tough catches in traffic — and major inconsistency. Last year, many of his receptions were made when he reached out with his enormous hands and snatched the ball out of the air. But a few times Thursday, he also used his enormous frame to shield defenders away from the ball. He still gets his hands out to grab the ball at the highest possible point, as he should, but at 6-6, 265, his ability to keep big defensive players (like Bradie James) at bay with absolutely no chance of getting to the ball will be a significant upgrade to his receiving ability.
Missed chance: When backup QB Jon Kitna fired a pass at FB Julius Crosslin on a crossing route, the ball floated out of his hand, drifting a couple of steps behind Crosslin. S Pat Watkins, who was trailing on the play, turned to look back, only to watch the ball hit him between the 2 and the 5 on the front of his jersey and fall to the turf. It wasn't an easy play, because of how quickly the ball got to him after he turned, but certainly was a catchable ball, and on a team that struggled to make interceptions last year, it's a play that has to be made.
Thursday training camp insider
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