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.
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.