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Half Full of Half Empty? Scrimmage Report, Saturday, August 5th
By Rafael Vela 70 Comments If you have consistent pass pressure, does this mean your rush is strong or your protection is weak? When an emerging second year player gives a veteran trouble, does this mean the kid is breaking through or the vet might be wearing out?
These are the questions posed by another brisk Dallas practice. The Cowboys went through their normal sprints, stretches and agility drills before running through a 90 play scrimmage. The defense showed some steel, putting heavy pressure on the first and second team offensive units. The offense refused to stay down and began moving the ball in spite of the pressure. All three QBs led scoring drives, though the hottest QB was again Tony Romo, who marched his second team offense for touchdowns on consecutive drives against the first and second team defenses.
The scrimmage showed clear hierachies within the roster. The first and second team offenses rotated against the first and second team defenses, while the third stringers played only against each other, suggesting that the third stringers are fighting only to make the final roster and will not appear in real games unless injuries force them to play.
The changes made in yesterday’s practice stuck; the first offense took the field with Rob Petitti at LT, Kyle Kosier at LG, Andre Gurode at C, Marco Rivera at RG and Marc Columbo at RT. The defense fielded Jay Ratliff, Jason Ferguson and Chris Canty along the line with Greg Ellis, Bradie James, Akin Ayodele and Demarcus Ware at LB.
The offense threw an early wrinkle at the secondary, showing an open formation from their base two-TE set. Anthony Fasano, Terry Glenn and Jason Witten split wide left, with Fasano wide, Glenn in the slot and Witten five yards off the left tackle. Fasano was open on a seven yard stop route, but Drew Bledsoe overthrew him. On the next play a strong push up the right side by Ratliff and Ellis was whistled for a sack. Bledsoe hung tough in the pocket, despite heavy pressure and seemed to complete a sliding throw to Glenn over the middle, but the officials ruled the play incomplete.
The second units then started against each other. Tony Romo started behind a line of Flozell Adams, Corey Proctor, Al Johnson, Matt Tarulo and Jason Fabini. They faced a front seven with Kenyon Coleman, Thomas Johnson and Jason Hatcher across the line with Al Singleton, Ryan Fowler, Bobby Carpenter and Kevin Burnett behind them. Romo came out flinging and made two accurate fades, one to the left and one to the right. Unfortunately for Romo, neither Terence Copper or Jamaica Rector could bring them in, both bobbling the balls and falling out of bounds. Romo stood in the pocket despite heavy pressure, though most of his came from the left side, where Burnett was giving Adams fits.
After the third defense thwarted the third offense the first offense returned against the second team D. This time, the offense showed more fight. Though Bledsoe was again sacked by pressure off the right side, this time from a stunting Bobby Carpenter, the running game came to life. A toss off right tackle gained six yards. Julius Jones ran a draw for eight more. A pass in the right flat to Witten helped move the ball into field goal range, where Mike Vanderjagt converted with ease.
Romo then took the field against the first team defense and began a methodical scoring drive. Marion Barber ran behind right tackle for a nice gain. A waggle to Barber broke for big yardage down the right sideline. A short completion to Fasano set up an out in the left corner of the end zone for a touchdown, Romo pumping his fist at the accomplishment.
Drew Henson then led a scoring drive. He had by far the best pass protection, as the third line stood up all blitzes it faced. Henson developed a fast rapoire with Sam Hurd. He hit Hurd on a deep in for about fifteen. He followed this up with a stop fade down the right sideline and then another straight fade that Hurd caught before falling out of boundsat the one. Lousaka Polite dove the last yard and the C team had reason to cheer.
The first unit went back against the first unit, and while the offense moved for another field goal, Demarcus Ware gave Anthony Fasano a rude initiation, pushing him back into Drew Bledsoe for a sack. The second unit came back against the second team and Romo again moved for a score, throwing a dandy deep seam pass to Tony Curtis, who was blanketed by Ryan Fowler. Seeing Fowler had his back turned to the line of scrimmage, Romo gunned a pass to Curtis’ outside shoulder. The backup TE was able to twist and make the 27 yard catch before Fowler ever knew the ball was coming. This is a big league throw, the type guys like Dan Marino made with regularity.
Henson went back to torturing the third string, moving for a score and ending the fourth series for each of the three units with a nice touch TD pass over the middle to a TE to bring the practice to an end.
Flozell Adams is R-U-S-T-Y. He’s second team for a reason. He looks sluggish and had a horrible time handling Kevin Burnett’s inside counter move.
Burnett, on the other hand, looked great. He beat Adams three times with that Charles Haley-like counter move, where he would start hard outside then cut under Adam’s inside armpit. When Adams adjusted and cheated inside, Burnett blew by him on the outside. Burnett didn’t have an offical sack, but could have had four by my count. If he keeps this up in the real games the Cowboys will have to find room for him in their pass rushing package. He gave Flozell a much harder time than Demarcus Ware gave Rob Petitti, which raises many questions — was this because Petitti is that much better than Adams; is it because Adams is that much worse than Petitti; is Burnett perhaps close to or equal to Ware? We won’t know until the jerseys are a different color.
Bobby Carpenter = football player. This kid looks like an old pro. The coaches blitzed him a lot from his inside position and he lived in the backfield, recording two sacks and later reading and stuffing a throwback screen to Julius Jones for no gain. He knows how to find the ball and get to it. He’s already calling all the signals for the second team defense. I would not be at all surprised to see him in the nickel package on opening day, given his intelligence and rush skills. Seeing Carpenter and Burnett play so well means Dallas has the depth and flexibility to get veeeery creative with its blitz packages. Last year, Dallas had two consistent linebackers. If Greg Ellis keeps up his play, they’ve got six now.
Ellis was the starter on the strong side, and did nothing to discourage the experiment. He recorded a sack on the first series of the day. He did get fooled on the Barber waggle and got turned inside by Jason Fabini on two strong outside runs, but rose up on the first team’s final drive of the day to stop a possible touchdown drive. After a penalty put the offense at the five, Ellis stuffed an outside run and then batted down a pass into the end zone. He sometimes plays with his hand down and most of the time plays standing up. Regardless, he showed an ability to make plays.
It was a tough initiation for Anthony Fasano. Ware jacked him up. Dallas tried a flea flicker to his side and Al Singleton blew past him, forcing Fasano to hold him, lest Bledsoe get smashed. But don’t get down on the kid. He’s got talent and he’s got fight. He made some good catches later in the scrimmage and can block. He’s got more speed and pop than Dan Campbell, whom he replaced.
It may be coincidence but Drew Henson looked right handed; on throws to the right side of the field he was perfect. His touch outside the right yard markers is remarkable. On the other hand, his throws to the left all sailed. Good think most of his throws were to his “good side.”
Jay Ratliff got some praise early in camp and gave Marco Rivera a fight. He showed some good inside moves. Again good youngster or flailing old pro? Rivera dialed him in as the scrimmage went on but Ratliff pushed him hard. Cross your fingers and hope we’re seeing the emergence of another good rushing DE. Chris Canty had a great push off the right side, recording two sacks. If Ratliff is on board the Cowboys’ rush will be nasty this year.
Jason Fabini had his best session by far today. All the off tackle runs and tosses to his side were positive. A couple broke for big yards. He’s on the bubble and he knows it.
Terence Newman could start the season today. He snuffed out everything to his side.
The Cowboys ran a funky 2-4-5 defense with their third unit. Two tackles, flanked by four linebackers. At the snap, OLBs John Saldi and Rocky Boiman had their hands down as DEs, but could move around and mess up blocking assigments at will. This is a package New England used to great effect the last two years. The Cowboys now have the LB numbers to throw some wrinkles of their own.
Areas of greatest concern today — I see two: right tackle, where Marc Columbo had trouble with pass protection and guard. If Kyle Kosier or Marco Rivera went down is there anybody on the roster you trust? Me neither. I’ve heard there is concern at nose tackle as well, but I must admit I didn’t follow that position that closely today.
So, is the glass half full or half empty? Do the Cowboys have a good pass rush and decent protection, or a mediocre rush and terrible protection? We saw option B last year. There’s much more talent on the field this year. I’m hoping we’re seeing a movement towards option A, but we won’t really know until next weekend.