Cowboys Camp, Day 3: Sea Change

The day in full pads was a half-a-loaf day for the offense and the defense.

The offense, which had an erratic two days in shorts and shirts, continued to work off a basic script which contained several screens and several zone runs.  The best news for this group was that the pass protection, which had looked spotty during the 11-on-11 sessions Sunday and Monday, tightened up considerably today.  Cowboys QBs had more time to scan the field and work from the pocket.

The screen game, which the unit had worked on extensively the first two days, showed improved execution and started to click a bit more.  While the team has worked in running back, tight end and flanker screens, the running back screens showed the most promise against a defense which is trying to establish its rush credentials.

On the defensive side of the ball, Monte Kiffin’s zone philosophy is starting to show promise.  A scheme based on denying the deep pass and the big play denied Cowboys quarterbacks deep options all day.  The two and three-deep zone coverages work to force check-downs and the back seven did this superbly today.  It did not matter whether Tony Romo, Kyle Orton or the other back-ups were at the controls.  Passes in the deep zones were eschewed in favor of check downs into the short and intermediate zones.

This does not mean that the offense was shackled.  Dez Bryant is looking like an “aircraft carrier,” to use the verbiage of the late basketball analyst Al McGuire, and Bryant caught some passes off dig routes and shallow crossers and made significant yards after the catch.  That said, neither Romo nor his offensive cohorts were able to threaten the deep areas of the field.

While this has to frustrate the quarterbacks, this has to make the defensive coaches happy.  This is how the Tampa-2 is supposed to work.  It tries to force the shorter pass and calls on the back seven and attack the player who catches the ball.

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The day began without the early “blue” session, which had been reserved for the 2nd and 3rd team squad players.  The players met for a quick stretching session, then worked on positional agility drills.

After 20 minutes the offense and defense met to work on the day’s “scrip,s” a half-speed walk through of the plays the units will work on that day.  The offense worked on stretch runs it has practiced for two days.  The one addition was the”power” or counter-o as many teams call it.  This is the trusty counter run, where the back-side guard pulls and leads the running back to the opposite side after an initial weak-side fake.

The defense, meanwhile, worked in split groups on back-seven coverage.  On the near sideline, the coaches worked with the 2nd and 3rd team guys on more basic two deep and three deep zones while on the opposite half, Monte Kiffin drilled his first unit on a combination of zones and man under/single high coverages.  The emphasis on creating turnovers was apparent.  One phase of the drill had coaches throwing passes into the teeth of coverage, challenging the linebackers to close on the ball and pick it off.  Sean Lee snagged his share, building on his strong turnover-laden opening.

The team then met for its first 11-on-11 of the day.  The first 1st offense versus 1st defensive pairing was won by Tony Romo, who twice drew D-linemen off-sides.  Ben Bass and then DeMarcus Ware were the culprits  Jason Garrett had the unit pulled for their mistakes. (Don’t fret.  The defense did not have another such mistake the rest of the practice.)

In the subsequent plays against the second defensive unit, Romo beat blitzes with quick tosses to his running backs.

The team then broke up into the initial one-on-one drills in pads.  While the receivers and corners were working on the west end of the field, the linebackers and safeties matched up against the tight ends.  Here, rookie Gavin Escobar showed some of the deep speed that made him so attractive to the team’s scouts.  He twice caught passes between the layers of the interior zone and absorbed the hits from the safeties after he caught the ball.

The windows offered to the quarterbacks running this drill were small, and any time the ball was late, or off- target, it was tipped in the air and intercepted.  This, again, shows the effect of shifting to a more zone-heavy pass defense which keeps the football in front of the defenders.  Most miscues present opportunities for turnovers.

The late phase of the practice saw 11-on-11 scrimmaging from various parts of the field, and in various situations.  The initial scrimmage saw the offense working on 3rd down conversions with the posse (3 WR) personnel set against the nickel offense.  In this sequence, the defense showed some interior blitz looks, sometimes dropping out of it into straight zone, and sometimes bringing pressure up the middle.  Romo again beat these blitzes with short screens to his backs.

A screen pass beats a blitzing Bruce Carter (54)

Later, the ball was moved to the opposite field, and the offense worked to move the ball starting deep in its own territory.  Here, the options were limited.  Some runs worked, particularly a few inside runs where counter blocking created seams.  Romo and his backups had trouble getting the ball down the field.  The first offense moved best when it took the underneath throws presented to it.  Romo completed three quick passes inside, two to Jason Witten and a third to a slanting receiver.

When he and the other QBs worked off quick rhythm and showed patience, they generate d some first downs.  When they tried holding the ball and waiting for deeper options, they were frustrated.

Each side scored points in today’s initial full-pads bout.  How will they adjust tomorrow?


— Another good day at the office by safety Will Allen. He made an interception and a break-up yesterday and was around the football again today, He worked at lot at first team safety with Barry Church.

— Church had a solid day, and broke up a tight end screen in vicious fashion.

— It’s been a strong three days for Brandon Carr.   He’s locked up nearly all throws outside the numbers in this new scheme.  He’s toying with smaller receivers and is making guys like Dez Bryant work for their meals  Bryant’s lone catch on Carr today was a stunner, a one-armed stop fade which Bryant trapped in the crook of his left elbow.  His right hand was fighting off the closing Carr.

Brandon Carr has owned his zone thus far.

— Encouraging signs from the kiddie interior line, especially C Travis Frederick.  They got movement on their counter plays and created backside seams for their running backs.  Frederick and LG Kevin Kowalski got flow away from the counter action, sliding the DTs away from the play.

— Frederick is a rookie, though and was rudely reminded of this back by a stunting DeMarcus Ware, who caught the rookie flat-footed on an inside rush and put him on his backside.

DeMarcus Ware says, “welcome to the NFL” to C Travis Frederick

— Ware is the player of the camp thus far.  He’s quick around the outside and he’s powerful inside.  I don’t have any concerns about his ability to play with his hand down in Monte Kiffin’s scheme.

— A mixed bag at left end for Ben Bass.  He again showed his outside jets, beating Doug Free on a straight jolt around the outside.  He was handled on counter moves and was swallowed up by the veteran.  It’s his first day as the starter on the edge, so I’m grading on a curve.

— More work today for Gavin Escobar, who took more reps with the 1st team offense in James Hannah’s absence.  Escobar moved around the offense, sometimes lining up in the backfield and at flanker on one play, outside of Dez Bryant.

— Hurry back, guards.  Mackenzie Bernadeau worked with the trainers today, one day after Ronald Leary showed his is close to practicing.  The Cowboys need them and Nate Livings back in pads, ASAP.  The 2nd and 3rd unit guards were woeful.  When they ran the power counter, the pulling guards would sometimes collide with the centers, making the linebackers’ jobs very, very easy.

Rafael Vela

Rafael Vela

Senior Analyst Cowboys at Sports Talk Line
Started covering Dallas Cowboys @ in '95 and '96. Two more stops along the way and here I am. Senior Analyst for
Rafael Vela

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  • Johnny Cage

    In the “This question is way too early department,” does J.J. Wilcox have a shot to start? At least some point down the line?

  • JS1405

    I haven’t read anything on Matt Johnson, how has he been so far?

    • Steven Van Over

      We are getting to him (possibly today) as we work around. So far: He has been playing with the two’s. In drills he shows nice hands. Have not seen him drop one. He high points the ball nicely. During plays he seeks the ball and you find he is close at the end of most plays. No huge plays yet, but we are excited.

      Allen (his chief competition) has played well and is showing up .. LOTS more info coming about this and the D as a whole. Check out the podcast and video. Enjoy!

      • JS1405

        I was just curious to see if he’s shown why the team had so much hope for him as to keep him all last season without much time on the field. Keep up the awesome work!

  • Yuma Cactus

    Is Albright getting any snaps with his hand in the dirt? Was Escobar used as a lead blocker on anything?

    • Albright is playing OLB exclusively. I have my doubts. This is a speed scheme and I don’t think he’s a speedy enough LB.

      • Yuma Cactus

        I thought with his size he would be moved to DE especially with the injuries on the D-line. Holloman, Magee, Sims and maybe even Tank are probably better suited for the scheme.

  • AustonianAggie

    Ben Bass is now the starter at LDE? I think he played interior at A&M, the Aggies had a 34 when he was there, so maybe a 5tech. Pretty shocking to lose the top two players at the same position so fast. So goes life in the NFL

    • He’s holding the fort until Spencer comes back in 3 weeks. He’s got some “get-off” as Marinelli likes to say. Wnen he just blasts as hard as he can around the edge, he can be hard to stop.