- Nine days after arriving in sunny California, the Cowboys have been stuck a routine that includes two-a-day practices every other day, with single-day practices sandwiched in between.
But before head coach Bill Parcells gives his team its first day off Sunday, he treated them to a controlled scrimmage that featured nine 10-play series, including three sets each for his top three quarterbacks.
Now first-team quarterback Drew Bledsoe was missing a few players he's counting on this season, including wide receiver Terrell Owens, who continued to rest his sore hamstring. Also, left tackle Flozell Adams split time working at left tackle with the first- and second-teams.
So it was no surprise the offense sputtered a bit early in the scrimmage, with the first team failing to score. Greg Ellis and Chris Canty each registered a sack in the first 10 plays, though there was no live contact. Head coach Bill Parcells blew the whistle once the quarterback got touched.
Ellis and DeMarcus Ware also combined for a sack to end the series.
Parcells did not talk to the media after practice, but assistant head coach Tony Sparano, who also serves as the team's offensive line coach, saw production on offense and defense.
"I have no gut feeling one way or the other," Sparano said. "I think it was give and take on both sides of the ball. I think that's important for this type of scrimmage. When you've seen each other for 10 or 12 practices like we have, there should be give and take. And I think there was today. Those guys came out here and made some plays for us up front."
Backup quarterback Tony Romo was rather effective running the second-team offense. Against the second-team defense, he led his group to an eventual 40-yard field goal by Mike Vanderjagt. On his second series, Romo drove the offense into the end zone against the first-team defense, capped off by Marion Barber's 6-yard touchdown run.
While the stats are unofficial, Bledsoe completed 10-of-17 passes and led the first-team offense to two field goals.
Romo connected on 9-of-18 passes, but led the offense on three scoring drives - two touchdowns and a field goal. Romo threw a touchdown pass to wide receiver J.R. Tolver, who celebrated with an emphatic spike.
"It was good to get out there and move the ball," Romo said. "And it's always encouraging when you do it against the first unit, too, as the No. 2 (unit). So I think we're showing progress here and we'll take it into next week."
Third quarterback Drew Henson completed 12-of-17 passes and led the offense to two touchdowns, including an 11-yard scoring strike to rookie Skyler Green. Henson also engineered the third-team offense to a touchdown drive that ended on Lousaka Polite's 4-yard touchdown run.
"We moved the ball, we scored a couple times when my group was in there," said Henson, who struggled in practice earlier this week. "We kicked a bunch of field goals and scored a few touchdowns as an offense. So I think as tough as it's been on us the last three or four days in practice, today we were able to move the ball a little bit and make a few more plays than we had this week."
What Are You Worried About?
While Greg Ellis has voiced his concerns about making the position switch from defensive end to outside linebacker, the ninth-year veteran didn't look out of place during Saturday's scrimmage.
Ellis worked with the first-team defense at left outside linebacker opposite DeMarcus Ware and wasted no time making a statement. Ellis recorded a sack on quarterback Drew Bledsoe on the second play of the scrimmage.
Ellis was in on several other tackles, including a stop on Julius Jones behind the line of scrimmage on a second-and-goal from the 3-yard line. On the ensuing third down, Ellis batted down Bledsoe's pass, forcing a field-goal attempt.
"Still, I have a lot of things to learn," Ellis said. "The coaches said I'm coming along pretty good, but we'll see. Football is football. You have to run and tackle on defense. That's part of it. But being in the right place at the right time is still the thing that I struggle with. But they said I'm doing pretty good.
"Again, it's an uncomfortable position for me. But obviously, I feel better about it today than I did the last time I talked to you guys."
On The Move
With Ellis replacing Al Singleton on the left side, the Cowboys worked rookie first-round pick Bobby Carpenter at inside linebacker on the second-team defense.
Parcells tried Carpenter inside on the nickel defense earlier in the week, but Saturday he got some snaps in the base 3-4.
"I've been doing it in practice some the past few days, but it hasn't something that I've extensively done until a day or two ago," said Carpenter, who recorded two sacks.
Parcells typically doesn't like to shuffle his rookies at multiple positions, but he thinks Carpenter can handle it. Carpenter played inside and outside linebacker at Ohio State.
"I think they're trying to move me around just to kind of give me a feel for the whole defense and to see how I do in each spot," Carpenter said.
On The Run
While Julius Jones had trouble finding running room Saturday, that wasn't the case for Marion Barber, who ran well with the second-team offense.
The second-year back from Minnesota broke off a few nice runs, including two on one series that ended with collisions with free safety Keith Davis.
After a 20-yard run down the right sideline, Barber was surprisingly blasted by Davis out of bounds to end the play. The officials even threw a flag for what would have been a personal foul.
While Barber seemed to take offense to the late hit, he got his revenge just a few plays later. After turning a screen pass into a near 30-yard gain, Barber again had Davis trying to knock him out of bounds, but this time he lowered his shoulder on Davis first, knocking him backwards while remaining on his feet.
Barber also scored on a 6-yard touchdown run to cap off a drive engineered by Tony Romo.
Getting Back In The Flo
Parcells said not to read much into Flozell Adams working with the second-team offense here in the last few days. Adams, who worked with both the first-and second- units during Saturday's scrimmage, has struggled at times in his return from last year's ACL injury.
For now, the Cowboys have moved Rob Petitti to the left side, where he played four years in college before switching to right tackle last season.
Adams opened the scrimmage with the second-team behind Petitti. However, Adams then took some turns with the first-team offense on its second set of downs.
"Right now I'm just trying to get somebody ready to play against Seattle," Parcells said, referring to his team's first preseason game next Saturday. "Flozell, I'm a little worried about him. I don't want to lose my quarterback up in Seattle so I'm going to get somebody ready. I just have (Pat) McQuistan behind him, so I put (Rob) Petitti over there to get him some reps."
Parcells said he is encouraged by Adams' improvement since the start of camp, when he was placed on active Physically Unable to Perfrom (PUP) following the team's conditioning run and missed the first day of practice.
"Everybody reacts a little differently to the surgery," Parcells said. "And for him to come back, he's such a big man and to stress that knee for the first time in about a year. I just would say from the first few days things have improved not gotten worse, so that's a very good sign."
After flying under the radar the first week of camp, first-year tight end Tony Curtis is starting to turn a few heads.
He made a few nice plays in the scrimmage, including a one-handed catch near the goal line that set up a score. Curtis also hauled in a 26-yard pass from Tony Romo with the second-team offense. Curtis capped off his day by catching a short touchdown strike from Romo against the first-team defense.
"I'm just trying to do whatever it takes to make this team, that's all," said Curtis, who spent all last of year on the practice squad after going undrafted out of Portland State. "I worked really hard this summer. Worked on catching the balls, routes, blocking. So hopefully, it will pay off out here."
With Jason Witten, Ryan Hannam and Anthony Fasano expected to take the first three tight end spots, Curtis is battling Sean Ryan for what could be the final spot. Also, fullback Lousaka Polite could figure into the mix as an H-back.
Wide receiver Terry Glenn was active in his lone offensive series Saturday, catching an 18-yard reception from Bledsoe. Glenn nearly came up with another diving grab, but the officials ruled the ball hit the ground first.
The NFL officiating crew calling the scrimmage will work the Cowboys' first preseason game next Saturday in Seattle.
Kicker Mike Vanderjagt made both field goal attempts - 40 and 24 yards - and connected on two extra points. Shaun Suisham came up way short on a 50-yard attempt but responded by hitting a 47-yarder on the ensuing drive.
Parcells said this week he expects a good competition for the third running back spot between Tyson Thompson and Keylon Kincade. He gave both players some work with the third-team offense. Rookie Demetris Summers also had a few nice runs at the end of practice.