Full Pad Saturday: Dallas Gets To Work

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WR coach Jimmy Robinson was
injured early in practice.

Note:  I’ll have the dueling Twitter and Facebook chats at 9 pm ET tonight.  I ask the Facebook folks to pose their questions as new posts, so I don’t have a thread that runs 50 comments long.  (Look for Cowboys Nation on FB with the Don Meredith icon.  On Twitter, it’s CowboysNation1).

The Cowboys held their first full-pads session of the Jason Garrett regime Saturday afternoon, and got a bit more than anyone in the organization expected.  Practice was halted roughly 20 minutes in when a player ran into receivers coach Jimmy Robinson on the near sideline.  Robinson hit the turf and remained down near the 50 yard line.  Medical staff braced Robinson’s neck and put him on a body board.  At last report he was in a San Antonio hospital undergoing tests.

Robinson appeared to be conscious when carted from the stadium.  He also flexed his legs.  Jason Garrett took over the wide receiver drills in Robinson’s absence.

When work resumed, the lineups gave some hints as to where rookie tackle Tyron Smith will play.  After working the Thursday and Friday sessions at left tackle, Smith today played at his college spot on the right, with Sam Young flopping to left tackle.  Fellow rookie David Arkin played the entire day at left guard with the first unit.  He’ll likely stay at left on the second unit when Kyle Kosier is able to suit up this coming week.

On defense, Keith Brookings‘ aches and pains gave Sean Lee the full day at weak inside linebacker with the first team.  Lee took advantage, showing good awareness and breaking up several plays in the first 11-on-11 scrimmage of the day.  Regardless of whether Brooking is gone for a short time or an extended period, Lee appears ready to push him for the starting role.

The Roy Williams Memorial Drill

Remember Roy Williams’ fumble in the waning moments of the Saints Thanksgiving Day loss?  It appears Jason Garrett has.  Midway through practice he set up the third day of ball-stripping, ball-protection drills.  Garrett demonstrated the initial drill personally.   He lined up four defenders, two linebackers and two corners, ten yards off the line of scrimmage.  Garrett caught a short pass over the middle and loped directly up the field.  The linebackers converged on him from each side and both tried to strip the ball.  They then let him proceed another 15 yards or so up the field, where the two secondary players approached from each side.  They also tried punching and stripping the ball.

The drill had several benefits.  It taught the offensive players ball protection and let the defenders work at creating turnovers.  What’s more, by running the drill the full 50 yards up the field, all the skill positions players and back seven defenders got lots of running in at the same time.

Finally, it’s clear Garrett wants his players taking great care of the ball until they score or the whistle is blown. He won’t accept one-handing the ball or show-boating during a play.

Duels on Saturday

The Cowboys then practiced one-on-one drills between offensive and defensive players.  On the south side, the wideouts set up with Tony Romo and went in single coverage against a corner.  The coverage was tight, but the staring wideouts all looked good.  Miles Austin is well oiled and ready to play.  He beat solid Terence Newman coverage twice, beating Newman on a deep comeback and on a square in.  The drops that dogged Austin in last year’s Alamodome camp have disappeared.  Everything is sticking this summer.

On the opposite side, Dez Bryant used his size to out jump Mike Jenkins for one grab and to overpower Orlando Scandrick on another.  Bryant used a subtle shove to gain ample separation from Scandrick on the second ball.  Michael Irvin would have been proud.

Kevin Ogletree is running tighter routes and looking more like the rookie who got December and January playing time two seasons ago.  He’s tracking every ball and grabbing it.  He made a tight over-the-shoulder grab of a Romo fade to end this drill.

The offense and defense then went 11-on-11, with the ball inside its own 15.  Rob Ryan brought pressure and Jason Garrett again challenged it with screens and a single trick play.  Jay Ratliff and Sean Lee blew up the first toss to Felix Jones, but Jones got a modest gain to the right on the following play, behind a solid block by the pulling David Arkin.   Dez Bryant then made a first down on a flanker screen.  The play was well defender on the edge, but Bryant overpowered the corner and pulled away down the sideline.

On the next play Felix Jones ran a direct snap up the middle from the shotgun.  Tony Romo faked watching the ball go over his head while Jones took the snap behind cross blocking from the center and a guard.  Sean Lee read the play and stacked it at the line.  The backups came in and two more screens to the backs burned the third team defenders for big gains.

The 11-on-11 continued with the ball at the 40.  Here, Garrett’s script called for a sequence of traps, draws and stretch plays.  Lee again made several stops.  Rookie Shaun Chapas rotated in as the fullback for several plays and created a lot of noise.  He created several loud collisions in the hole, but lacked the pop that veteran John Phillips showed when he took over as the F-back.  Chapas can hit his man and stand him up.  Phillips can pop and create a push the rookie does not yet have.  Still, Chapas found the proper target, made hard contact, and created seams for a couple of effective inside runs.  Chapas will challenge Chris Gronkowski for the fullback spot if he continues to improve.

Welcome to the NFL, Rookie

Another 11-on-11 followed, this time with runs and passes mixed together.  On the third play of this series, Tyron Smith got his introduction to blue-chip NFL speed.  Demarcus Ware lined up over the tight end on Smith’s side and raced wide past the rookie.  Smith lunged in vain as Ware was past him.   Smith was beaten a second time by a similar Ware move in the final full-22 scrimmage, but recovered to stop the last two one-one-one rushing duels with Ware.

Notes:

Stephen McGee is a giant enigma.  He looks faster on his reads and is getting the ball out faster and down the field.  He threw a nice seam ball to a tight end in an early passing drill against the defense.  He’s working with the 3rd unit, however and is not getting as much time as Romo and Kitna.  It will be interesting to see if he can get the ball away quickly when he gets time.  He got a couple of reps behind the second line late in the practice and completed a couple of nice passes downfield.

– The first unit is getting better at handling the rush.  One obvious benefit of Rob Ryan’s blitzing will be to acclimate the offense to pressure.  Bill Parcells used to hammer his offenses in camp and yell at them, ”when the season comes you’re going to wish they blitz you!”  Rob Ryan may instill the same attitude in Garrett’s guys.

– The incredible moving Jay Ratliff.    So many people have screamed for it, and Rob Ryan will deliver.

No, Jay Ratliff hasn’t been moved to defensive end, but he’s not being used solely as a nose tackle either.  In the final drill, when the Cowboys’ spread packages went against Rob Ryan’s nickel, Ratliff played on a lot of downs where he was the sole lineman.  On some, he would begin as the 7-technique, outside the tight end, slide to a 5-technique, on the offensive tackles outside shoulder, then slide to a 3-technique, on the guard’s outside shoulder at the snap.

Sometimes he would start as a one-technique, where he played under Wade Phillips, shaded on a center’s shoulder, then move to the 3-technique at the snap.  Ratliff moved up and down.  The constant was that he usually started plays from the psycho package as a 3-technique.

But who can say?  Ryan and D-line coach Brian Baker said Ratliff would move a lot and he will.  Look for him to be on the nose on early downs and do a lot of rover work in nickel sets.

– Buehler watch:  David Buehler was 4 of 5 today, missing wide left on a kick in the mid-30s.  It’s very early, but it should be noted that backup Dan Bailey has nailed all but one of his kicks in camp thus far.

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Rafael Vela

Rafael Vela

Started covering Dallas Cowboys @ TheBoys.com in '95 and '96. Two more stops along the way and here I am. Senior Analyst for SportsTalkLine.com