Sorry if this was already posted but I didn't see it. Lots of goodies to comment on here.
NFL rosters, of course, never lie. The Cowboys list reserve RB Anthony Thomas at 228 pounds, the same weight at which he was listed last year as a member of the Chicago Bears. But several observers at Saturday's practice agreed that he looks more slender. Several on-lookers guestimated his weight loss in the range of 10-15 pounds. He also looks quicker and more agile than he did with the Bears.
While the Cowboys drew raves for the offseason acquisitions -- free agency brought DT Jason Ferguson, OL Marco Rivera and CB Anthony Henry, and the team was widely lauded for having among the best drafts in the NFL -- one position at which the Cowboys didn't sign or draft a new player was wide receiver. It's not as if the team is without talent at the position. The professional résumés of Keyshawn Johnson and Terry Glenn speak for themselves, and many feel Patrick Crayton and Terrance Copper have bright futures. But there are some who thought the team would benefit from adding another speed receiver. If Saturday's workouts are any indication, the team might have lucked out. Ahmad Merritt, a fourth-year WR out of Wisconsin the Cowboys signed from the Chicago Bears, stood out in Saturday's practices. Glenn and Tom Crowder might be the only WRs with equal speed, and he uses his speed and athleticism well to gain separation from DBs. Early in the morning workout, Merritt ran a deep crossing route, blew past a DB and adjusted to a Drew Henson pass that sailed behind him. After creating space between himself and a pair of DBs, he leaped high into the air and twisted around to snag the ball .... and retained his balance when he landed.
If Merritt doesn't turn out to be a new deep threat for the Cowboys, another option is rookie UFA Jamaica Rector. Standing 5-10 (like Merritt) and six pounds lighter than Merritt (who is listed at 195). A head-turner at the team's rookie mini-camp last month, Rector has continued his impressive performance, using exceptional quickness and elusiveness to get open and surprisingly strong hands to make catches, both the routine and occasionally the extraordinary. Playing a position at which several spots already are locked up, Rector has to be considered a longshot to make the team, but he clearly has opened some eyes (including as a punt returner).
When he was drafted last year out of Boston College, TE Sean Ryan was touted by head coach Bill Parcells as a promising target, a strong blocker whose coach said he needed to run better routes to become a more effective receiving target in the passing game. It appears Ryan listened to his head coach. He always had good hands, but has run better routes over the first two days. In Saturday's morning workout, Ryan ran a deep route, spun Pro Bowl S Roy Williams with a series of fakes and cuts and then outraced Williams to the corner of the end zone, where he caught a touchdown strike from QB Tony Romo.
In the same passing drill, rookie S Justin Beriault showed the importance of finishing what he starts. Badly beaten by TE Dan Campbell on a deep route over the middle, Beriault caught up to the veteran tight end as he was about to coast across the goal line, and stripped the ball, knocking it to the turf.
Much is expected of high draft choices such as Demarcus Ware and Marcus Ware. However, being selected in the first round of the draft doesn't automatically mean immediate success. Ware made many plays with his raw athleticism, but was thrown around by RT Kurt Vollers in pass rushing drills and manhandled by LT Flozell Adams. (Adams later underscored the notion that size does, in fact matter when he grabbed LB Kalen Thornton in a headlock and drove him all the way off the practice field. Kind of looked like Adams was making sure his little brother knew who was boss.) Ware also had mixed success in coverage, knocking away a few passes but also getting spun all the way around and left behind by free agent RB Tyson Thompson.
The morning workout was interrupted by rain, forcing the Cowboys could go inside the team's indoor practice facility adjacent to the practice fields. The indoor field actually is the same field that was used when the team had its training camp in San Antonio. The turf was ripped up and moved to Valley Ranch three years ago, where it was used (albeit uncovered) for a season before the plastic "building" was erected over it two years ago. The structure looks like either the world's largest tool shed or an angular Michelin Man with a huge blue star on his triangular "forehead."
More players have been added to the list of those hoping to return punts and kickoffs for the Cowboys. DB Jacques Reeves, RB Anthony Thomas, RB Marion Barber, WR Zuriel Smith, RB Thyson Thompson, CB Nathan Jones, CB Bruce Thornton and WR Jamaica Rector all took their turns returning kicks -- under the close scrutiny of head coach Bill Parcells -- as did one somewhat surprising candidate: free agent CB Aaron Glenn.
Kalen Thornton was the first player to fill the traditional "hybrid" (DE/OLB) role that Parcells seems to like to have on his 3-4 defense. Demarcus Ware is expected to fill similar roles, and a third player worked with both groups: Eric Ogbogu. The eighth-year Maryland product, who heretofore has played exclusively at DE, worked with the OLBs Saturday. As should have been expected, he had more success in pass rushing drills than when dropping into coverage.
There are some coaches who find themselves intrigued by the athleticism of players from other sports trying their hand on the gridiron. Parcells is giving one such player a chance: Reggie Love is a 6-4, 224-pound OLB who last played played forward on the Duke basketball team. At times, he looked like a basketball player on the field, taking poor angles in pursuit. But the athleticism is evident. On one play, he lined up in coverage on RB Tyson Thompson, who boasts exceptional speed. Thompson blew past Love, who got caught in a poor pursuit angle. But Love gave chase, turned and tipped the ball up in the air before making the interception. No truth to the rumor that Parcells will add Mike Krzyzewski to his scouting staff.
Among those in attendance at Saturday's afternoon workout: former DE Charles Haley.
How's this for job security? Clinton Greathouse is a punter from Texas Tech, hoping to take incumbent Mat McBriar's job. Maybe he will, maybe he won't. But at the end of practice Saturday, when the team worked on punts, the coaches assembled two offensive lines side by side to snap the ball and simulate blocking. While Greathouse stood and watched, McBriar punted, then ran over behind the other line and punted again. The drill went on for more than 15 minutes, with McBriar taking every snap.
As players establish themselves as professionals, their goals change. For many young players, simply making the team seems like the ultimate goal. Then the priority becomes earning a starting spot, or reaching certain statistical (or financial) goals, or making a Pro Bowl or winning a Super Bowl. TE Jason Witten's top priority clearly is appearing on TheRanchReport.com. On an afternoon passing drill, Witten screwed S Roy Williams into the ground and cruised under a 40-yard pass from QB Drew Bledsoe, racing into the end zone
and directly at TheRanchReport.com photographer/editor Roy Philpott, who snapped a barage of rapid-fire pictures before backpedaling faster than Deion Sanders in a tackling drill. Before turning around to head back toward the huddle, Witten looked right at the camera and yelled "Y'all get a picture of THAT?"