I made a trip down to San Antonio yesterday to get a look at this year's team. It was a very long practice but the first hour was devoted to allowing the younger players and rookies to get some extra work. Saturday's afternoon practice was the first full pad practice of the year.
Once the full practice got under way it was amazing to see the difference between a Jason Garrett run practice and a Wade Phillips run practice. There was no wasted time this year. No one stood around joking or laughing. Everyone was there to work. Everyone ran from drill to drill. And you could tell that players were worn out by the end of practice. Based on what I witnessed I would expect the Cowboys to be one of the most well conditioned teams in the league this year.
All of the offensive and defensive lineman were wearing knee braces. I remember that Bill Parcells required all lineman to wear braces when he was the coach. I don't know if Garrett is going to require braces for the entire season but I do like the injury protection especially this early in training camp.
I won't be the least bit surprised if the Cowboys enter the season with a new kicker. Dan Bailey from Oklahoma State looks like the real deal. He went 5 for 5 during the team portion of practice and all his makes were right down the middle. He doesn't kick the ball nearly as hard as Buehler but I'll take accuracy over distance any day at this point. Buehler went 4 for 5 during the team drills but his kicks always just seem all over the place.
Dez Bryant is a freak of nature. Miles Austin is no slouch. But there is a noticeable difference between the explosiveness of Dez with the ball in his hands and any other player on the team. And Dez seems to catch everything with ease. The Cowboys are lucky to have a 1-2 punch at receiver as skilled as Miles Austin and Dez Bryant.
I think Kevin Ogletree is ready to step into the #3 receiver role. He looked the best I have every seen him look at practice. His routes were crisp and he was making great catches all day long. Seeing him operate really put my mind at ease in terms of the #3 receiver. Dwayne Harris, the rookie from East Carolina, has great hands but he needs to work on his routes because he was getting no separation from defenders. Manny Johnson did nothing to impress me.
Tony Romo was his usual excellent self. His arm was accurate and he threw with great velocity. Don't be fooled by the media reports of his practice stats due to the current offensive line situation. He had no time to throw and was always under pressure due to the back ups currently manning nearly the entire first unit of the offensive line.
Also on the quarterback front, both Kitna and McGee looked good as well. The Cowboys have great depth at quarterback as it stands right now. I certainly don't want to see either of these guys on the field in the regular season because that would mean Romo was hurt again. But I have a lot of confidence that all is not lost if Romo does go down again.
The offensive line is a mess right now. It is frustrating that Kyle Kosier and Doug Free are standing around watching practice even though they are under contract due to the new CBA. Tyron Smith is really struggling to block Demarcus Ware. With Gurode still rehabbing his knee the Cowboys have only Tyron Smith and Montrae Holland as actual starters who are currently playing with the first teamers. I'm going to give Tyron a break for now because it was the first padded practice and he is going against the best pass rusher in the league. But he needs to get it going.
Felix Jones still looks a little heavy to me. I thought he was planning to go back to his rookie weight but I didn't see that in his physique. I'm not saying he was fat, but he looked very stout compared to his younger days. I really don't care what he weighs as long as he regains his explosiveness. Unfortunately both Tashard Choice and DeMarco Murray aren't practicing right now due to injuries.
The Cowboys are stacked again at tight end now that John Phillips is back. He looked good but I want to see him in a game before I'm convinced about his knee. Martellus Bennett seems to get bigger every year. Pretty soon he is going to look like an offensive tackle. As long as his run blocking continues to be excellent I don't care what he weighs. Jason Witten was great as always.
Watching Rob Ryan coach the defense was exciting. There were blitzes coming from all over the place. And several times Demarcus Ware started by lining up all the way back at safety and then ran to different spots along the line to rush. The defensive will make a lot of big plays this year.
I didn't get a good feel for the play of the secondary because most of the action during the team portion of practice was running game and screen passes. But at least Scandrick, Jenkins and Newman are all healthy for now.
I like Barry Church at safety but I still think the Cowboys need a free safety. Again, it was hard to judge any of the secondary guys in practice but I would feel better with at least one seasoned veteran back there. I keep hearing rumor about Abe Elam but we'll see how that plays out.
Jay Ratliff looks like he is in great shape. He claims to have lost 15 pounds and it shows. I just hope he didn't lose so much that he gets pushed around. Igor Olshansky looked a lot more fit as well. Josh Brent looked huge out there. He is expected to get a lot of playing time this year and he looks ready.
Sean Lee started at inside linebacker with Bradie James because Brooking is injured. It was easy to notice Lee because he was always around the ball. He seems a lot more comfortable reading the running game this year. I hope he steps into a starting role this season.
It was so early in camp I can't really draw any big conclusions from what I saw. But I did see a team that clearly was in shape even after the long lockout. And I saw a coach running practices that are no joke. The Cowboys are working hard and that is all you can ask right now.