Saturday, July 31, 2010

Down Goes Dez

I knew it was going to happen at some point. A major injury finally hit the Dallas Cowboys. It happens to every team in basically every training camp every year. But this one hurts.

Dez Bryant had been on fire during the first week of camp. So much so that some media members were very prematurely talking about running Roy Williams out of town. And I'll bet Patrick Crayton was thinking that dropping to 4th on the depth chart was exactly what he had expected.

But one play changed all that. Dez is out 4-6 weeks with a sprained ankle. Patrick Crayton and Roy Williams suddenly don't seem expendable. And we are all reminded why you can never have too much depth at a position on an NFL roster.

The silver lining in all of this is easy to spot. Sure, 4-6 weeks is a long time. But it could have been much worse. Last year it seemed that every rookie that went down injured was out for the season. So far this season Dez Bryant sprained and ankle and Sean Lee strained a quad. There are some other small things to deal with, but the Cowboys are still pretty lucky on the injury front.

The sad part about the Dez injury is all of the practice time he is going to miss with Tony Romo and the rest of the offense. He is going to be playing catch up all year long now because he is missing the most important 4-6 weeks of the season in terms of preparation for the season. Hopefully he is a fast healer and he'll be back on the field sooner than later.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Training Camp Thoughts - 7/29/10

A few more practices down and still now Marty B. It was deemed a minor ankle injury at the start of camp but now we are hearing the Martellus will be limited when he finally starts practicing this weekend. Every practice report that I read seems to include something about John Phillips playing great. The clock is ticking for Marty B. I'm sure he knows that at this point.

Flozell Adams is a Pittsburg Steeler. It is always sad when a player spends his whole career with one team but has to finish out his last few seasons with another franchise. It is going to be strange to see Flozell in gold and black. But we all could see he was in serious decline. The reason he kept committing personal foul penalties last year was primarily due to the fact that he has lost a step and was trying to compensate. Good luck to him but I think the Cowboys did the right thing.

David Buehler is the only kicker on the roster now. I guess the coaches are sold on Buehler. Either that or the roster spot being taken up by the second kicker was too valuable to keep Delbert Alvarado around. Either way Buehler is going to have a lot of pressure on him until he proves he can get it done.

Matt McBriar is again the holder for field goals. Nick Folk used up every excuse in the book last year during his mental breakdown so Romo tried to come to the rescue as the holder. Unfortunately it didn't make a difference. Now McBriar has his job back.

It looks like the Cowboys will have improved depth at outside linebacker this season. Brandon Williams and Curtis Johnson are both looking very good. So maybe Demarcus Ware can actually get a breather once in a while this season so he can be fresh for the 4th quarter. Of course that is all contingent on the backups making it to the regular season healthy.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Training Camp Thoughts - 7/27/10

With so much information flowing out of training camp I am going to try to keep up with the developments with a quick reaction to the hot topics every few days from now until training camp is over. Even though camp only started a few days ago it seems like the media is in mid-season form already.

- I'll start with the "hot" topic. Dez Bryant should have just carried Roy Williams' pads and this wouldn't be a story. I don't think it automatically makes him a diva receiver just because he refused to take part in a typical training camp tradition. I would bet that the problem has already been dealt with behind closed doors by the veterans and we'll never hear about it. I was expecting to see Dez taped to a goal post and left there after practice but I guess that isn't going to happen. Either way Roy says it is a non-issue and Dez says the same thing. It is over. Let's move on. But I will file that move by Dez in the memory banks and hope that it was an isolated incident.

- I really want John Phillips to push Martellus Bennett down on the depth chart. I can't stand the fact that Marty B. has to be told where to line up repeatedly in every game he plays. Add the fact that Tony Romo doesn't trust Martellus to run the right route or run it correctly and you can see that Phillips has a real shot. With Martellus out with an ankle sprain John Phillips has been showing that he has made great strides this offseason. Phillips was already starting to take some snaps from Martellus at the end of last season and now he might be on the verge of taking his job. Like I said, I'm pulling for Phillips in this training camp battle. And I didn't even mention the continuing off-the-field news that Marty B. keeps creating.

- The Bengals have recreated the locker room mess that Dallas dealt with in 2008. The have managed to add Tank Johnson, Pacman Jones, Roy Williams, and now Terrell Owens over the last year. Throw Chad Ochocinco into that mix and I smell disaster. Those guys are all ok as long as the team is winning. Carson Palmer better pray they win a lot of games or his team is going down in flames.

- I'm wondering what is going to happen with Patrick Crayton. It seems pretty clear that he has dropped down to the #4 slot and I wonder how long he is going to keep quiet about it. I seriously doubt that he will unseat Roy Williams or Dez Bryant to get back on the field with the first team whether he outplays them or not. I'm not saying what it happening to Crayton is fair, but it is the reality of the NFL. I hope he can be a team player because it would be nice to be able to keep him for depth.

- Doug Free, Alan Ball, and David Buehler have all done a decent job so far. We won't really know about any of them until the preseason games start. And even then we might have to wait until the regular season to find out if these three are ready to step up this year. Only time is going to tell what we have at left tackle, safety and kicker.

- So far the injuries have been minor. Let's hope that continues.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Training Camp Observations - 7/25/10

I attended my first training camp of the season this afternoon. Obviously it is extremely early in camp to draw too many conclusions but a few things caught my eye. Here is a brief summary.

- Dez Bryant is the real deal. He is big and fast. He made two spectacular catches during practice that no one else on the team could have made. One was on a slant route when the quarterback lead him too far and he reached out with one hand and snatched the ball out of the air. The truly amazing part was that he made it look routine. The other "wow" play was on a flea flicker during 7-on-7 drills. Kitna was the quarterback and the play was a flea flicker. Kitna got the ball out way late and Dez was on a fly route down the sideline. As Kitna scrambled around Dez work back towards the quarterback about 40 yards down field. Kitna's throw was high. Dez jumped with a defender blanketing him and made the catch while managing to just get his feet down in bounds.

- Tony Romo looked very good. There isn't really a question about his ability anymore. But the scary part is the drop off from Romo to Kitna. Romo makes his reads noticeably quicker and is much more accurate than Kitna. As usual, the season will be a disaster if Romo is injured.

- Miles Austin did not look good. On consecutive plays at one point he dropped a crossing route that might have been a touchdown and then fumbled the next pass he caught. Orlando Scandrick blanketed Miles and stripped the ball from Miles a few steps after he made the catch. I was at camp last year and Miles looked horrible so maybe is just isn't a good practice player. Time will tell.

- Martellus Bennett might be in trouble. John Phillips must have gained 15-20 pounds in the offseason. It was nice to see the team line up in two tight end packages without anyone having to tell the second tight end where to line up or what his assignment was after they broke the huddle. Phillips just might take over the #2 tight end spot if Marty B. is out of action for much longer. Phillips made several nice receptions and did a good job blocking.

- Alan Ball looked a little bigger but he is still small. I noticed during a footwork drill that his feet move like the cornerbacks. With the rest of the safeties you could notice a difference in foot speed but not with Ball. Barry Church from LSU caught my eye a few times with some nice plays and his size was ideal for a safety.

- It is hard to really learn much about the offensive lineman in practice but Doug Free looked pretty good. He seems thicker in the legs this year so maybe he added some mass in the offseason. He seemed comfortable at tackle but we won't know much until he plays in a game.

- Roy Williams looked good all practice long. He caught everything thrown his way.

- In most of the 3 receiver sets with the first team it was Miles Austin, Dez Bryant and Roy Williams on the field. Patrick Crayton appears to be #4 on the depth chart already.

- David Beuhler has learned to dial down the power on his field goals. He was softly popping the short field goals down the middle. I didn't see him kick anything longer than about 35-yarders but his accuracy was good.

- Sean Lee looked good but it was hard to judge too much. The best look I had at him was during the team scrimmage part of practice. He looked comfortable and seemed to know his assignments on each play. He darted into the backfield on a run wide to the right side and would have tackled the running back for a loss.

- Bryan McCann from SMU caught my eye several times on pass coverage. Maybe he'll steal a roster spot away from one of the other cornerbacks on the roster.

- Orlando Scandrick didn't show any ill effects from his broken finger. He was great in coverage and didn't have any trouble catching the ball in any of the drills. He came up with an interception on a tipped pass during the team scrimmage drills.

- Gerald Sensabaugh displayed great hands during drills now that he has two thumbs to work with again. I wonder how many interceptions he'll have this year since he won't have a cast on one hand.

- Kevin Ogletree needs to find a new practice look. The players were in helmets, shoulder pads and shorts. Ogletree was wearing capri pants similar to Rafael Nadal. This isn't tennis, Kevin. Put on some shorts.

I'm hoping to make it to training camp at least one more time. Maybe next time I'll be able to get a better look at some of the offensive and defensive linemen if they are in full pads. Overall I was impressed. Dez Bryant exceeded all of my expectations.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Everyone Signed for Camp

I'm sure ESPN is disappointed in the news out of Valley Ranch. The Cowboys have all of their 2010 draft picks signed before the start of camp. The media is waiting for Dez Bryant to slip up or give them a reason to slam him. I applaud the Cowboys, Dez and his agent for recognizing the importance of getting Dez to camp on time.

More important than shutting up the Dez Bryant naysayers is the message it sends to his teammates. Dez is ready to play football and he wants to get to work. He isn't trying to be a "diva" receiver before he has done anything at the NFL level. Dez needs all the practice reps he can get to prepare for the season and his signing insures that he can maximize his practice time.

On top of that, the Cowboys got Sean Lee signed as well. The Cowboys will have all of their rookies at camp from day 1. I love it. And I think it is a good sign for the upcoming season. The Cowboys appear to have added players that are ready to play football and aren't going to hold out for ridiculous money at the expense of their rookie year.

Now we just have to hope that this year's crop of rookies can survive training camp. We can't forget the rash of injuries that occurred last year in training camp. Rookie after rookie went down with injury until the depth at some key positions was completely eroded. I have to believe the Cowboys will have better luck on the injury front with the rookies this year. But I'll keep my fingers crossed and knock on some wood just to be safe.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Going To Training Camp

It looks like I'll be heading to training camp this weekend to check out the 2010 Dallas Cowboys. Although it will be extremely early in the evaluation process I have several things I will be looking at while I'm there.

1. How does Roy Williams look? Last training camp/preseason he seemed to be developing a nice rapport with Tony Romo but then he injured his shoulder late in camp and they never really clicked after that. With Dez Bryant waiting to take his job I expect to see a determined Roy Williams.

2. Does Alan Ball look ready to start? It is one thing to work with the first team in OTA's when everything goes at three quarter speed. I want to see how he performs in the team portion of practice when things start to move a little faster. We won't really know if Alan Ball can excel at safety until the real games start but we will know early on if he is in over his head.

3. Is Sean Lee as good as advertised? He seems to have everything it takes to be a key player on the defense for the next decade. I want to see if he looks as good against NFL talent as he did in college.

4. Is Dez Bryant practicing? I am going to camp extremely early so there is a good chance that Dez won't be under contract. I hope he is because I want to get a first hand view of the amazing natural ability he possesses.

5. Is there any depth at cornerback after the top 3? There are a lot of candidates vying for the #4 slot but none of them have proven anything at the NFL level. It will be an interesting battle. Hopefully the Cowboys find a player on the roster who can get it done so they don't have to overpay for an aging free agent veteran. The one-on-one drills between the cornerbacks and wide receivers usually expose a cornerback who doesn't have the ability to play at the NFL level.

6. Is Doug Free going to be able to protect Tony Romo? The best tool that Doug Free has to develop his game is Demarcus Ware. Free gets to practice against one of the best pass rushers in the league every day. Pass blocking on game day should seem easy for him after he faces Ware for the next month and a half.

7. Can Beuhler handle the kicking job? Field goal kicking is still a major concern. Beuhler never looked to good during camp or pre-game warm-ups last season on field goals. Hopefully he will show improvement in camp but we won't know how good he is until the pressure is on in the regular season.

8. Has Martellus Bennett matured? Last year while I was at training camp I witnessed Martellus at his worst. While the rest of his teammates warmed up for practice he was dancing around a joking with the crowd. Then he didn't know where to line up on offense half the time just like the regular season. Hopefully we'll see a guy who takes his job more seriously this year.

I'm hoping to attend a few training camp practices. Let me know if there is something I can watch that you are interested in. I also plan to post some pictures from training camp.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

5 Reasons the Cowboys Can Win It All

With training camp getting ready to start in just over a week I find myself filled with optomism for the upcoming season. Now admittedly, I usually find a silver lining in just about anything I can related to the Cowboys. But this year I'm not forced to come up with forced justification and statements that start with "if" too many times to convince myself that the Cowboys could win the Super Bowl this year.

Here are the top five reasons I believe the Cowboys are poised for a Super Bowl run this season.

1. The core of the team has reached its prime. This will be season #6 for Demarcus Ware. This will be Tony Romo's 4th season as the full time starter and you could count 2006 if you want and say this will be his 5th season as the starter. Jay Ratliff is entering season #6. Miles Austin is playing season #5 even if this will only be his 2nd as a starter. The offensive line is experienced across the board even if you count Doug Free since he got on the field so much last year. And Doug Free is playing his 4th season this year so it isn't like he is a wide-eyed rookie manning the left tackle spot. All of the running backs are at least in their 3rd season. Ditto for the top 3 cornerbacks and both safeties. So we aren't talking about a team who will be in over its head like it was in 2008. There is experience across the board on the roster.

2. Tony Romo has figured out how to make big plays while limiting turnovers. Last season was a huge step forward for Tony. He entered the season with a lot of question marks about whether he could ever learn to control his bad impulsive plays. Just 13 turnovers in 16 games showed he has become much better at protecting the ball. At age 30 he is in the middle of what are considered the prime years for a quarterback.

3. Wide receiver depth is no longer a question mark. In fact, the Cowboys seem to be loaded at wide receiver. How can the defense double Jason Witten and Miles Austin every play if Dez Bryant and Roy Williams are there to make them pay? Even if you don't believe in Roy Williams like I do, what about Patrick Crayton and Kevin Ogletree? The Cowboys could sustain an injury or two at wideout and still have a very potent passing game.

4. There is depth on the defense this season. Last year the Cowboys were extremely thin at outside and inside linebacker as well as defensive tackle. That should be different this season barring any major training camp injuries. The #4 cornerback position is a big question mark but the Cowboys have three starting caliber corners manning the top 3 positions on the depth chart. With Mike Hamlin, Gerald Sensabaugh, Alan Ball, and Patrick Watkins the Cowboys have a lot of depth at safety. And I didn't even throw in Akwasi Owusu-Ansah or Jamar Wall into the mix at safety yet because they have to show something at training camp first. Both of those rookies look to be following in Alan Ball's footsteps by providing depth at safety and cornerback.

5. The players finally learned how to win big games at the end of the season. Sure, some will point to the Minnesota playoff game and say I'm crazy. But I remember a team on the brink that won 4 big games in a row in December and January against the Saints, Redskins, Eagles, and then the Eagles again last season. The Cowboys may have been destroyed in Minnesota but it was a valuable learning experience. One of the lessons learned involves the importance of home field advantage in the playoffs. The offensive line was horrible against the Vikings primarily due to the fact that the defensive line was off the ball faster than the offensive linemen due to the crowd noise.

The bottom line is that the Cowboys have reached the prime years for the roster as it is currently constructed. The players have battled through adversity and learned how hard it is to win big games. They've finally taken the step of winning a playoff game and now it is time for the team to set its sights on the ultimate prize. Do I think the Cowboys are a shoe-in for the Super Bowl? No, but I believe they have as good a shot as anyone else in the NFC.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

The Quietest Offseason in a Long Time

There hasn't been a lot to talk about lately. I can't remember the last time I was honestly at a loss for topics to discuss about the Dallas Cowboys. Recent offseasons have been filled with endless drama. Whether it was T.O. coming or going, Pacman Jones, Tank Johnson, Greg Ellis whining or any other big story it seemed like the stream of news from Valley Ranch was endless. Until this year.

Sure, there has been a little controversy this offseason. Flozell Adams was cut by the Cowboys and the move has been endlessly debated by fans and the Dallas media for months now. And Ken Hamlin was also cut but I don't think that caused much concern for most people. Alan Ball and David Beuhler have been discussed and debated to the point of boredom.

Marty B. tried to spice things up over the holiday weekend. He concocted and filmed another video that I'm sure he thought was hilarious and entertaining. This time he dressed up as Osama bin Laden and performed a horrible rap. You would think that would be big news but I think everyone is numb to his childish antics at this point. His video only lasted a few hours on the internet before it was mysteriously removed. Something tells me he will be paying another fine to the team for his ignorance and immaturity.

Miles Austin is making some waves with his dating life, but does that really mean anything to me? Probably not. As long as he isn't going Hollywood or getting the idea that he is bigger than the team then I really couldn't care less who he is dating. Same goes for Tony Romo or any other player on the roster.

So what do we do to fill the time before training camp? I have found myself taking a break from the team for a few weeks for the first time in years. I didn't check the news for a few days and when I finally did I realized that absolutely nothing had transpired. What a concept. A real offseason from the Dallas Cowboys. It was nice for a few weeks but now I am getting antsy for training camp to start. A break is nice but I'm excited for the season to officially start with training camp in a few weeks.