All of the rookies who missed last week's OTA because of NFL rules stipulating that no rookie can take part in team activities until his school's spring semester is over — tight end Scott Sicko, defensive tackle Sean Lessimore, wide receiver Terrell Hudgins and running back Lonyae Miller — were back on the field.
Missing in action were three veterans: Jay Ratliff (elbows), linebacker Keith Brooking (knee) and wide receiver Patrick Crayton (trade request).
Nothing halfway: Not much would be said if wide receiver Miles Austin and safety Gerald Sensabaugh went through the motions while their teammates did the bulk of the work in drills. After all, neither Austin nor Sensabaugh has signed his contract offer from the team. But they were among the most visible players Monday, drawing raves from teammates and coaches. On one play, Sensabaugh hung back while a tight end cut underneath him, before bursting forward for an easy interception. Austin not only made a handful of difficult grabs, he also went out of his way to pull some of the young receivers aside and offer his advice on route-running, footwork, etc.
On the side: Second-year kicker David Buehler is adding field goals to his list of responsibilities this season, but he also is working on perfecting his original task: kicking off. More often than not, the optimal result on a kickoff is a booming shot that sails into orbit before coming down in the back of the end zone, or even behind it. When that doesn't happen, coaches want to see kickoffs buried into the corner of the field, which is exactly what Buehler was working on Monday morning. At one point, he dropped six straight kickoffs inside the 5-yard line and within a couple yards of the edge of the field, where a return specialist will have to perform a Houdini act to get the ball out beyond the 20.
Passing interest: There was one more-than-familiar guest on the sideline Monday when former Dallas quarterback Roger Staubach stopped by. He threw a few passes, and while he might have lost a few miles per hour off the fastball, he still throws a pretty ball.
After practice, Staubach stopped to talk with the media, and oozed confidence when asked about his thoughts about Tony Romo's ability to run the offense. "I get the feeling … when Troy Aikman was here, you had this feeling," Staubach said. "When Tony is on the field, I get that same feeling.
"You look at the talent out there — Dez Bryant, Felix Jones, Miles Austin … I think I could still play, with the talent they have."
Flipping back to the line: The first-team defense featured the same quartet of linebackers as last week — DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer on the outside, with Bradie James and Jason Williams inside. The only difference this week is that Ware, who normally lines up on the right side of the defense, spent some time on the left, with Spencer filling Ware's spot on the right. It's not a complete shock that a team would flip personnel around to try to create new looks, but Spencer and Ware almost always play on their own sides. Whether or not that will be seen during the season remains to be seen, but it's a little early to be adding wrinkles on a trial basis if the coaches don't plan to use them.
The second-team defense also had the same foursome at linebacker: Brandon Williams and Victor Butler outside, with Leon Williams and rookie Sean Lee inside.
Brace yourself: Speaking of Lee, the second-round pick from Penn State said at the team's rookie mini-camp that the brace he wore on his left knee was nothing more than a precautionary measure. Now, in his second OTA, the brace remains in place. Lee said after practice that it is still just that — nothing more than a precaution — and said that as long as he can run well, he might as well play it safe and leave the brace in place. He indicated he would like to get rid of it eventually, but not until a doctor tells him to do so.
It's all in the numbers: Rookie defensive tackle Sean Lessimore is now wearing jersey No. 69.
Wide receiver Miles Austin wore jersey No. 2, which he said he also wore last week (on the days when the media wasn't allowed in to see practice). The change, he said, is nothing more than a nod to New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter. Austin grew up in Garfield, N.J., rooting for the Yankees.
Tight formation: It looks like offensive coordinator Jason Garrett has been toying around with ways to take better advantage of the tight ends he has at his disposal.
Last week, he had starter Jason Witten and backup John Phillips lined up in a stacked set, in which Phillips lined up a yard or two behind and to the side of Witten, allowing the two to split off in a number of variations of pass routes. This week, backup Martellus Bennett lined up directly behind right tackle Marc Colombo, in a modified H-back stance. (Best way to hide a 6-6, 266-pound tight end, stick him behind the 6-8, 318-pound Colombo.) At the snap, Bennett took a step backward, caught a short screen pass and took off behind Colombo — who made a mockery of a linebacker trying to get past Colombo to Bennett.
Speed kills: As is the norm at OTAs, the team wrapped up the session with some conditioning runs. Most of the players looked like they had pretty good wind, with defensive linemen Junior Siavii, Marcus Spears and Junior Aumavae bringing up the rear. Fellow defensive linemen Igor Olshansky and Jason Hatcher were excused from the running.
Return to the group: The crowd of punt return candidates grew over last week. Fielding punts this week were cornerbacks Jamar Wall, Bryan McCann, Terence Newman and Cletis Gordon, and wide receivers Kevin Ogletree and Dez Bryant.
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