Cowboys Camp, Day Two: Knocking Off the Rust

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Update:  Will chat on Twitter and Facebook tonight at 9 pm CT.   You can find the page here.


This Psycho is a Rude Beast

Rob Ryan’s defense works a lot on scheme.  He mixes lots of pre-snap movement with heavy pressure, hoping to knock opposing QBs and their receiving corps out of sync.Ryan also likes to sow confusion by playing people out of character.  Linemen play linebacker.  Safeties and corners blitz.  Linebackers put their hand down and play the run.

On a day when the Cowboys are running a bit thin on the defensive line, Ryan brought out his ”psycho” packages.  If the results are any indication, he could drive plenty of opposing quarterbacks mad.

I spent most of the day on the south side of the Alamodome, in the end zone where the linebackers toil.  I wanted to see Rob Ryan and new LB coach Matt Eberflus work their guys out.  They offered a sneak peek at the psycho nickel and dime sets, which were the center of the defense’s work today.

After punt drills, the linebackers met Eberflus and Ryan in front of a set of overtuned drums, which represented the offensive line and two tight ends.  There were gaps between the drums which corresponded to lineman splits.  The coaches has the linebackers running blitz drills in sets of three.  There was lots of looping, and twisting involved.  In some cases two linebackers rushed through the same gap, and would have to time their entries so they did not collide with each other.

The timing was sloppy at times, prompting Ryan to hurl some, “what the hell was that’s” at his guys.   Repetition works, and the cohesion improved as the drill went on.

The coaches were working exclusively with the 2nd and 3rd units at this time. The starting quartet of Ware, Spencer, James and Brooking came out ten minutes after the backups and Ryan took them to one side, while Eberflus continued to work with the backups.  Ryan put the four through a different set of strange blitzes, which offered some clues to later drills.  In some he took the four and had them blitzing from inside linebacker positions, between the tackles.  In others, he put the four on one side of the center.  In others, he had Ware and or Spencer line up as linemen.  Was this to help the inside backers run their stunts?  Were the outside backers really going to line up as linemen?

The first answers came 50 minutes into practice, when the Cowboys held their first 11-on-11 drill.  The offense began using a lot more spread packages;  where yesterday it went with basic, two-back, two-receiver sets, today we saw a lot more one back sets, some with two tight ends and others with three receivers.

The defense countered with two variants of the nickel sets Ryan used with Cleveland and Oakland.  On some plays, the defense would field two linemen and four linebackers, with an extra corner or safety brought in, depending on the offensive package faced.  Ryan also deployed a one-lineman, five linebacker set with six DBs.  The key was a hybrid end, who could either stand up or get into a three point stance.  To the casual observer, it looks like a standard 3-4 front with one DE missing.  One DE lines up over an offensive tackle, the nose tackle lines up over the center and the ”open” side OLB either stands up outside his OT, where the DE would be in a base set, or stays up.