Trouble, trouble, trouble, trouble
Trouble been doggin’ my soul since the day I was born
Worry, worry, worry, worry
Worry just will not seem to leave my mind alone
— Trouble, Ray LaMontagne
It seems that many Cowboys fans can’t help but worry about their team, though training camp is only nine days old and no player has yet suffered a significant (season threatening) injury. The most frequent question I have received this year asks some variant of the following, “should I worry/be concerned about player or position x?”
If you want to worry, sure. If you would rather preserve your nervous system for the regular season’s churn, here are some reminders.
1. This is a process. You’re simply not going to know if a young player is definitely good or definitely bad, with certainty, today. You just won’t. I’ll repeat, learning curves do not progress linearly. Some go up and go down. Some go up, flat-line, then go up again. Some jump up early, then drift towards the ground with each successive day.
The encouraging news is that youngsters are progressing. Bill Callahan has his kid linemen on the upswing. Jermey Parnell was an undersized project when the Cowboys claimed him from New Orleans’ practice squad two seasons ago. He was overwhelmed when he had to play a regular season series last year. Today, he looks like an NFL tackle. He’s still a backup, but he’s a bigger, stronger, more feisty player this year. His technique is better. The same is true for David Arkin. Phil Costa’s hand work off the snap has improved, and he’s better at anchoring in power moves in the practices. Which leads to point two.
|Callahan drills the offensive tackles|
2. The new assistant coaches are upgrading their units. I see a lot more teaching and attention to detail in the offensive line and secondary unit work. Callahan will put his linemen in their stances, kneel between the offensive and defensive linemen, touch his charge’s nose and draw a line to the exact spot he wants his lineman to hit on his opponent. When his guys work on stretch plays or coil up to hit targets, he’s stopping them mid-stride and making minute adjustments to shoulder placements, foot placement and to height. He sometimes looks like a window dresser handling massive human mannequins.
The point of his and assistant Wes Phillips’ lessons (watch this guy in the future) is creating “lines of power.” One observer I spoke to this week said Callahan must have some background in kinesiology, because all this fine adjustments work to maximize power transfer between the blocker’s core and the point of impact, be it the blocker’s shoulder or his hand(s).
Similar work goes on with Jerome Henderson’s secondary bunch. He’s fussy about hand placement and effective jams off the line of scrimmage. The receivers and d-backs go one-on-one off the line every other day and these have become highly entertaining drills. They offer a quick view of which receivers can beat the jam, but also on which defenders can pop.
Not surprisingly, Brandon Carr is the secondary champ. He loves the contact and he brings his punch-outs from all angles, and at all times. He has a boxer’s feel for his blows; sometimes he delivers the jolt just after the snap. Sometimes he’ll delay it until the receiver is almost even with him. Carr gives the kids a bruising and is making the starting receivers better off-the-line. They have to be, or they won’t get past him.
|Brandon Carr tracks Kevin Ogletree|
Here too, you see progress group wide. Before his knee sprain, Morris Claiborne was rapidly improving with his jams and overall physical play. Mario Butler has made strides in this area. Orlando Scandrick looks quicker and more certain out of his breaks.
Some units remain thin. The tight end unit needs John Phillips. James Hanna is learning the F-back role (look out Shaun Chapas) but he’s still a backup. Fortunately, Lawrence Vickers has that spot locked down. The guard spots will look much more solid when Nate Livings and Mackenzy Bernardeau return, which should be next week. Claiborne should come back at that time, and Mike Jenkims may follow a couple of weeks later, which will strengthen the cornerback depth.
If you want to be concerned (I don’t recommend worry. It upsets your stomach and turns off your friends) look at the receiving corps and also send some positive energy Matt Johnson’s way. Johnson is running out of learning time. Once we reach game three of the pre-season, the emphasis shifts from teaching to week-to-week game prep. Coaches simply don’t have time to bring a kid up from nothing then, and Johnson needs to start his on-the-field lessons, stat.
When the Cowboys play the Raiders and the Chargers, track the 3rd role challengers. Does any one of the Ogletree, Harris, Radway, Holmes, Coale or Beasley group seize the role? Where do they play? In the slot exclusively? Outside exclusively? Can they play both spots?
We’ll know by the final gun of the Chargers contest if the Cowboys can promote from within, or will be looking for another Laurent Robinson-type veteran when the final cut-downs occur.
3. Revel in the back and forth Before camp, I pointed out that exchanges between quality players produces a lot of back-and-forth. If you have a good receiver and a good wideout squaring off, the results will resemble a good fight. One participant will score his share of blows and the other will too.
Many of the worrying types point out that they’re reading a particular player struggles here and there. Tyron Smith’s name pops up. Well, folks, who does Tyron Smith face every day? If Smith stopped DeMarcus Ware on every down, in drills or scrimmage, what do you think the reaction would be? Would we be praising him, or would the worry meter be cranked up to 11 for Ware, since “he’s not getting any pressure against Smith!”
Back and forth, in moderation, signifies team health. Adrian Hamilton and Kyle Wilber make plays here and there, against first and second teammers. We want this to happen. Dez Bryant beats Barry Church on posts here and there. But he’s beating everybody. If Church was shutting Dez down every down, would we be praising him, or worrying about the receivers, since our best and only healthy wideout can get open deep?
Everybody is getting beaten here or there. I can’t say that I’ve seen a projected starter manhandled consistently. The games may tell another story, but that’s what I see thus far.
4. It’s time to play people in other uniforms. We’re reaching the point of camp where familiarity factors into the assessments. Is a player doing well against his opponent because player one is improving, or because he’s seen player two’s moves for ten days and has dialed the guy in? Can player one do it if he’s facing a fresh face?
It’s a process, folks. Work with it. Put the worry on ice until September 5th.