Mini-camp observations - Saturday

IRVING, Tex. - Once again Saturday was on hand for rookie mini-camp at Valley Ranch. Read all about our insider news and notes inside this detailed report!

That's better: Everything top draft pick Dez Bryant was Friday — inconsistent, nauseous, sloppy (in route-running and receptions) — is the opposite of what he was Saturday. Not that he needed to, but Bryant underscored the Cowboys' reasons for trading up in the first round for him with a series of stellar grabs in both sessions. He looked like he tired a little in the afternoon session, but he spent the day going over, around (and in one case, through) would-be defenders to make one spectacular catch after another. He makes one-handed grabs more easily than most receivers can catch with two hands.

What's in a number? Those in attendance might have thought they were seeing double Saturday morning. After dropping a pass in the morning session, the current No. 88 — Bryant — stopped to say hello to another No. 88 — Michael Irvin — who was standing on the sideline, watching the session. The two visited for a minute before Bryant returned to the drills. After the morning session, Irvin addressed the rookies ("he talked about how you don't win championships without being a family," secondary coach Dave Campo said) before holding a private one-on-one session with Bryant after everyone else had left the field. Bryant declined to discuss what Irvin told him, but hs body language suggested Irvin was giving Bryant some technique suggestions.

Impressing the master: Shortly after his first brief sideline chat with Irvin, Bryant made a play that would have made the Playmaker proud. Irvin and Cris Carter are probably the two best receivers in NFL history when it comes to pushing off (or "using their strength to create space.") Irvin rode that skill to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and Carter probably will join him on day in Canton, Ohio. Late in Saturday's morning session, Bryant ran a straight route down the hashmarks against cornerback Marquis Floyd. Bryant effortlessly held Floyd at bay with one arm, and calmly snatched the pass with the other.

Catch of the day: On one play in the morning session, Bryant was covered by cornerback Marquis Floyd, who tried to jam Bryant at the line of scrimmage (despite a 27-pound size deficit), and then turned and ran with the team's first-round pick. Gordon stayed with Bryant about 30-yards downfield, got right in front of him and turned in plenty of time — and in perfect position — to either make the interception or knock the pass away. Unfazed, Bryant leaped up, reached over Gordon's head and snatched the ball away … and kept his balance enough to turn upfield, while Gordon lay face-down on the grass.

Against the Wall: Sixth-round draft pick Jamar Wall struggled for the second consecutive day, often getting spun around while receivers created considerable space to make catches. At one point, secondary coach Dave Campo pulled Wall aside and had a few words with him, after which Wall's technique improved and he was able to stay closer to receivers.

Join the club: One of many things that made the late Reggie White one of the greatest defensive linemen in NFL history was his ability to use a "club" move when rushing the passer. Simply put, he would start upfield, either inside the tackle or outside the tackle, and swing his massive arm like a club, knocking his blocker to the side, or sometimes all the way to the ground. When the Cowboys' rookie defensive linemen went through a drill in which they were asked to weave their way through large, foam dummies, they were told to employ a similar move to get by their foam foes. Marcus Dixon, Sean Lessimore and Junior Aumavae were plenty adept at moving the foam dummies to the side, but Lorenzo Washington — the 6-4, 291-pound rookie from Alabama — clubbed the dummies so hard they slammed to the turf, with the top of the dummy occasionally hitting the ground while the bottom end floated up off the ground. Considering how heavily the bottom is weighted, that's a powerful shot. That move doesn't necessarily mean Washington is a great pass rusher, but it does suggest he can create space as he starts toward the quarterback.

Passing fancy: The aerial game looked significantly better Saturday. Quarterbacks Pat Grace and Matt Nichols were more accurate, and the receivers dropped fewer passes. In addition to Bryant's array of one-handed grabs, one-year veteran Jessie Holley was particularly impressive, hauling in a number of high passes.

It's a mystery: For the second straight day, wide receiver Terrell (tuh-RELL … not like TERR-ell Owens) sat out of almost all activities. He was dressed — jersey, shorts, cleats, even receiver gloves — but didn't run routes with the other receivers. When asked why he sat out, he seemed caught off-guard, and left to check with a team official as to how the question should be answered. He came back to report that he was out with "an undisclosed injury," but said quickly that he will be ready to take part in OTAs later this month. The gloves, he said, were so he could do some light catching on the sideline.

Speaking of mysteries: Linebacker Sean Lee, the only player at his position in mini-camp, continued his private tutorials with linebackers coach Reggie Herring, and ran more after the arrival of his own (better-fitting) knee brace.

Lee looks nowhere near as big as the 6-foot-2, 236 pounds listed on the Dallas roster. When pressed on the subject, one team representative allowed that some heights and weights might change before training camp, because the numbers on the mini-camp roster are taken from the scouting department's reports on college players … not the heights and weights collected at pre-camp physicals.

That's pretty Sick: The player with the best football name on the roster — tight end Scott Sicko — also looks like a pretty decent football player. At 6-4, 251, he has ample size and strength to be a useful member of the Cowboys' pass protection schemes. But he also runs pretty well (he has been timed regularly in the 4.5s in the 40-yard dash, broke out of his breaks smoothly and showed nice hands. It shouldn't come as a total surpise: after all, in 50 career games at the University of New Hampshire, he did catch 160 passes for 2,023 yards (12.6 yards per catch) and 22 touchdowns, including a career-best nine as a senior and 16 over his last two seasons.

Versatile trio: The Cowboys are stacked at the running back position, with Marion Barber, Felix Jones and Tashard Jones entrenched as the team's top three. But there are three more backs in mini-camp this weekend, and each seems to have a strength over the others. Lonyae Miller (of Fresno State) seems to have the best acceleration and top-end speed, Herb Donaldson (Western Illinois) appears the most comfortable receiving the ball out of the backfield, and fullback Chris Cronkowski (Arizona) is the best blocker of the bunch.

Hard knocks: In pass coverage, if an interception isn't feasible, the next-best option is for the defender to knock the ball to the ground. Safety Barry Church clearly understands that theory, and spent much of Saturday baiting the quarterbacks into throwing passes, only to jump the route and step in front of the would-be receivers to knock the ball to the ground.

Got 'em covered: The most impressive defensive back in coverage drills Saturday was cornerback Marquis Floyd, the one-year veteran from West Georgia, who showed the ability to go up in the air and fight the bigger receivers like Bryant for the ball, and the speed to stay with sprinters like Rashaun Greer and Verran Tucker.

Return to sender: Four players took their turns fielding kickoffs Saturday: receivers Manuel Johnson and Bryant, and cornerbacks Wall and Bryan McCann. Safety Akwasi Owusu-Ansah also stood back with the kickoff return specialists, simply to remain as comfortable as possible judging the flight of the ball. He didn't try to catch any, but he did drift behind the return man on a few kicks, as if he were going to.

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