Cowboys Camp ’13 – Kid Watch (Defensive Edition)

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Morris Claiborne 

Following up this morning’s piece, here are some profiles of draftees and bubble players on Monte Kiffin’s side of the ball.

– Matt Johnson:  the once invisible man is becoming more and more visible.  He’s playing the free safety role on the second team, dropping into the deep middle when the team runs cover 3, while J.J. Wilcox patrols the box.  He’s been solid in support and keeps the top of the shell.  The offense has had problems completing deep passes on any of the Cowboys zones thus far, and Johnson’s play is one reason why.  He’s started with the do-no-harm (to your unit) philosophy and has slowly expanded his range and his risk taking.

Yesterday, he made Tony Romo pay for a lazy throw in a full scrimmage.  The offense lined up in a “tight” I right, with Dez Bryant as the X and Jason Witten as the Y, and Gavin Escobar in front of DeMarco Murray in a straight-I.  The formation was tight because both receivers were set much closer to the open OT and the TE than normal.  The formation hinted a power run was coming and Romo hoped to spring Bryan open up the left sideline off a play action fake.  Romo’s fake held Morris Claiborne and Bryant blew past him.  Romo’s throw was high and on the numbers, left for Bryant to snag.  Johnson held his half of the deep zone, undercut Dez and intercepted the pass.  He tweaked a knee on the return, but walked off the knock and completed the session.

With Will Allen playing a surprisingly good FS for the first unit, Johnson’s steady emergence suddenly gives the team options at the free.  Knock on wood and find your rabbit’s foot. It’s been ages since we’ve able to say that.

– J.J. Wilcox:  He looks comfortable going down-hill, and the strong safety duties fit him.  He got a well-publicized correction earlier this week for jacking up receivers in drills.   Wilcox clearly wants to show off his aggressiveness and he looks like a player.  The scolding goes farther than possibly causing an injury.  Wilcox has a hair trigger on his charges and this scheme requires discipline and control.  I’ve seen running backs and tight ends burn him in one-on-one drills with combo out-and-up moves.  Teams will run hi-lo patterns and him successfully until he settles in.  He’s got a lot of promise, but Barry Church is the number one at the moment and Wilcox has a ways to go to beat him.

– DeVonte Holloman:  Another athletic, aggressive missile in the back seven.  Holloman is running with the 3rd unit at the moment as the strong-side OLB.  He can cover ground and has broken up passes in drills.  He’s still trying to get the scheme basics down.  He dropped out of his zone in a Wednesday scrimmage and let Joseph Randle take a short flat pass far up the field.  He’ll require some patience, but he may be worth the wait.

DeVonte Holloman, measuring an interception

– Justin Durant:  He’s the forgotten guy in the LB unit, playing next to Sean Lee and Bruce Carter.  He’s been steady and productive . You find yourself watching the bigger names and then he pops out and makes a big stop. He stoned a screen pass to DeMarco Murray yesterday.  Unless he falls off a cliff in the next two weeks, he appears to have the SOLB spot locked up.

– Will Allen: he’s not a kid, which is why we keep circling back to him.  The hope is that he’s not a camp flash-in-the-pan, who ages rapidly during the regular season, like the Joe Hardy character in “Damn Yankees” after he backs out of his deal with the devil.  Allen is steady, and gets to the football every day.  He’s been active in passes and simply understands the zome game better than Matt Johnson right now.  He’s also been very good near the line, timing his charges through the line very well.

– Morris Claiborne:  He’s not rehabbing a surgically repaired wrist, as he was last summer and it shows.  Check out this photo of Claiborne on the sidelines with fellow CB Brandon Carr.  Look at Claiborne’s arms.  They’re huge, and he’s getting better at using them.  Experienced hands like Miles Austin can work past him but the kids have a hard time breaking Claiborne’s jams.

– Sean Lee:  A toe injury shut him down in the Carolina game last year.  Put that out of your memory.  Lee has.  He looks tailor made for the Tampa-2.  He’s instinctive in his zone drops and catches like a tight end.  He times his runs through run alleys superbly and makes plays in the backfield when the opportunity presents itself.  Most impressive is his work in the deep middle of the Tampa-2  When he has to “run vertically between the hash marks or track Jason Witten in man-to-man, Lee has shown that he can erase Witten as an option.

– Ben Bass: He tweaked an ankle yesterday, but the injury does not appear serious.  That may be a blessing, because the temptation is to over-use him right now, trying Bass in different places along the line.  He’s a classic Rod Marinelli lineman, showing excellent get-off from the tackle and end spots.  He’s most effective using a straight jet around the edge from left end and has a nice swim move when he works inside.  He’s 294 and he’s going to be a very important rotation player for the Cowboys, now that Tyrone Crawford’s season has ended.

Notes

– What could have been.  Dallas would have a really good second DL unit right now if Tyrone Crawford and Josh Brent were around to work with Ben Bass.

– Watch the new guys on the D-line.  Landon Cohen (92) is a powerful, compact mass of a man who has rudely welcomed Ryan Cook back to full pads action.  Cohen dropped Cook on his backside more than once on Wednesday, and he can create an interior push when he stays low off the football.  Can he do this against the first unit?  He’ll get some reps in tomorrow’s scrimmage.

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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