Mini-camp observations - Friday

IRVING, Tex. - TheRanchReport.com was on hand Friday for the first day of mini-camp ... and there was plenty of action to talk about.

Rain sprinkled down on the practice field at Valley Ranch late in Friday's afternoon session. To see the gathered media sprinting for cover, it would have been understandable to assume that either there was free food available inside, or that the reporters and photographers in attendance remembered what happened the last time a Dallas rookie mini-camp was interrupted by rain. Some players actually looked up from their drills long enough to laugh at the out-of-shape forty-somethings as they showed off their 11-second 40-yard dash speed (that doesn't include me — I'm pretty sure I can still crack 10.5).

The good, the bad and the ugly: First-round pick Dez Bryant made several first impressions Friday.

GOOD: He showed off why the Cowboys decided it was worth trading up for him, making some spectacular catches in both sessions. On some, he ran past defenders, and on others, he used his massive frame to shield defenders from the ball. He also has enormous hands, and snatches the ball easily. He holds the ball like some others would hold a grapefruit.

BAD: He dropped some passes, and didn't always run the crispest routes … which is not unexpected for a player who hasn't been on a practice field since September.

UGLY: Bryant appears to be nowhere near football shape. Having spent weeks visiting teams before the NFL Draft, Bryant has spent more time traveling (and presumably eating) than working out lately, and several times took a break in practice, either leaning down with his hands on his knees, trying to catch his breath as he walked with his hands behind his head, or kneeling down to resist the urge to throw up. (For what it's worth, Bryant said between practices that he normally doesn't eat breakfast, but said that Friday started with eggs, a biscuit and two sausage patties. Asked if he would eat the same thing again Saturday, he said, "I might." Go figure.")

Looks may be deceiving: Bryant is listed on the Dallas roster at 6-foot-1 and 217 pounds, but there is absolutely no way he is shorter than another guy who wore No. 88 in Dallas, Michael Irvin, who was listed in his final NFL season at 6-2, 207. Bryant looks taller, and looks more than 10 pounds heavier. He does have a little of Irvin's technique down, though … at one point, he pushed off (er … "held off") rookie cornerback Jamar Wall with his left hand while calmly reaching out with his right to make a smooth, one-handed catch … a feat he pulled off several times Friday.

He also showed the same kind of body control for which Irvin was known, adjusting to a lot of passes in the air and twisting his body around to make catches on passes that were underthrown, behind him, etc.

Department of defense: When the team ran one-on-one passing drills, one of those who stood out early was free agent cornerback Bryan McCann, who broke up four consecutive passes, including one when he went up in the air with Bryant and knocked the ball out of his hands. In the afternoon session, he also stuck with one-year veteran Jesse Holley on a crossing route, and after Holley made the catch, ripped the ball away.

Likewise, safety Danny McCray fared well against tight ends and running backs in coverage drills. In one sequence, McCray broke up three consecutive passes that were thrown his way.

Consider the laws of physics: It makes sense that everyone has to put in the work to make a team, but when the team is doing tackling drills, watching kickers Delbert Alvarado and Connor Hughes bounce off offensive linemen seemed comical, at best. If one of those guys has to take on an offensive linemen, there are going to be serious problems to address.

Short and sweet: The two quarterbacks in camp — Nichols and Grace — were adequate on short and medium passes, but each was pretty erratic on deep passes. Several incomplete passes on longer routes had nothing to do with drops by receivers or plays being broken up by defensive players.

Many happy returns: Three rookies — Bryant, Wall and McCann —fielded punts (from Alvarado) Friday, as did one-year veteran Titus Ryan.

Brace yourself: Second-round draft pick Sean Lee is the only linebacker at camp, and is working out with a large brace on his left knee, which he sprained last year at Penn State. He moved fluidly, though, and said it doesn't bother him anymore.

Likewise, fourth-round pick Akwasi Owusu-Ansah, who said he will be working as a safety (at least at first), is sitting out until training camp while recovering from offseason shoulder surgery. Owusu-Ansah said his shoulder was dislocated twice last year, but he played through it before having it repaired.

Fitness plan: Special teams coach Joe DeCamillis remains arguably the most intense — and certainly one of the most colorful — figures in the Dallas organization. During special teams coverage drills, he lined up two linemen next to large foam dummies, and oncoming players were told to either run around the dummies or split the two. After a couple of players tried to blast their way through, DeCamillis stopped the drill to explain that players had to twist their shoulders to "get skinny," pointing out that taking the aggressive approach and trying to power through larger blockers could be ineffective … and perhaps painful.

Must be versatile: Running backs Herb Donaldson and Lonyae Miller know that they face an uphill battle to make a team that already features running backs Marion Barber, Tashard Choice and Felix Jones. They, along with fullback hopeful Chris Gronkowski spent almost the entire morning session showing that they could block. When they got a chance to run the ball and catch short passes over the middle in the afternoon session, Miller looked like he had the best burst of the three.

Shake it off: The only player who showed even a slight hint of an injury was McCann, who got beat on a sideline route by Greer before landing awkwardly out of bounds. McCann got up a little gingerly, favoring his right knee or leg, but walked it off and returned to drills moments later.

Listen and learn: Wall got beaten on several consecutive passes in the afternoon drills, until secondary coach Dave Campo pulled him aside. After a short tutorial, Campo had Wall watch the drill from the sideline for a few plays, rather than returning to join all of the other receivers and defensive backs behind the quarterbacks. After watching a few plays from a different perspective, Wall returned. Whatever Campo told him must have worked, as he smothered Tucker and Greer on consecutive plays.

Top pick: One-year veteran cornerback Marquis Floyd made the defensive play of the day, when he ran step-for-step with Greer on a deep route, turned to find the ball in the air, adjusted to the pass and made a leaping interception in front of Greer.

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