Musical Tackles — Practice Report, by Friday Afternoon, August 4th By Rafael Vela The Cowboys contined their brisk workout pace with another 100 minute session Friday afternoon, one that seemed to build in sharpness from the morning session. The practice focused more on teaching and positional drills. The Cowboys opened with their normal sequence of running their packages and plays for the day at half speed, running in teams and plays at a rapid clip. This went on a bit longer than normal, before the team ran some wind sprints and stretched. The positional drills focused on the passing game. To give you an idea of how well integrated the work is, consider: On the near field, the defensive linemen were working on their stunts, from three and four men fronts, with coach Kacey Rogers stressing lane discipline; he stopped a few times to move his men into an evenly spaced shell, to prevent running lanes for the QB. On the field behind them, the offensive linemen worked on recognizing stunts, passing the rushers off to each other and maintaining their protection shell; one group works on destroying a pocket, the other on sustaining it. In the middle of the near field the linebackers worked on their proper drops and width on shallow zones. Greg Ellis continues to improve in these skills. He’s a bit stiff, but does not look like a guy who’s only been at this for a week. He looks like he’s been working with the OLBs a while. You don’t point to him and say, he’s much slower and stiffer than the rest. Last year that was obvious with DE converts like Kalen Thornton. This year, Ellis looks like one of the guys. Coach Paul Pasqualoni has the inside the the outside guys working hard at keeping their feet moving and getting lateral movement through their zones. Their objective was to read his eyes and try to snag passes thrown through their areas. The linebackers all show remarkably good hands. With any improvement in the pass rush, we could see more picks from the LB corp this year. On the left most near field the defensive backs worked on route recognition and switching on the deep areas of zone defense. The groups would split into two. If you looked across the near field, you saw three groups working on phases of the same play — the linemen on the short phase of pass coverage, the linebackers on the intermediate responsibilties and the backs on the deep play. On the back fields, the offense did the same; the linemen working on protection while the QBs, WRs and backs all worked six on none tightening the timing of their patterns. After fifteen minutes of this the units worked in more integrated form. The linebackers and d-backs then worked together on the back seven of zone coverage. Half the unit would don colored balaclavas over their helmets to signal they were offensive players. The backs wear blue, the tight ends green and the receivers yellow. They run pass patterns that are flashed to them on cards by the coaches. The defense units are to recognize the formations, line up accordingly and then drop and switch off according to the combinations they see. It’s the material they covered in the unit sessions, now incorporated into a bigger whole. At the same time the offensive and defensive linemen were squaring off in rush drills. The few notables from this drill — Al Johnson looks steady in his pass blocking reps. He gives ground, but I didn’t see the dominant nose tackle pushes I’d read about during the first days of camp. Greg Ellis also got a brief break from the LB drills to work on his pass rushing assignments. He’s probably the busiest defensive guy right now. After another fifteen minutes the units finally met on the far field to go 11-on-11. After all those pass drills, the opening session was exclusively for running plays. It’s still close to a stalemate, but I’m seeing better push from the offensive line. it’s one good play for the offense, then one good play for the defense, which again sounds like a better balance than the early week practices. Hitting the backs was discouraged but the linebackers and safeties snuck a few in. A wicked pop on Julius Jones caused a fumble and drew howls from the players on the sideline. The biggest run came when the teams were third D vs. third - O. Keylon Kincade took a toss right the distance. I have not been paying that much attention to the backs, since they workout on the field farthest away from me, but I’ve noticed Kincade a few times, which is more than I can say for Tyson Thompson, who has not made any lasting impressions. Watch these two when the preseason games start. They may be fighting each other for one of the last roster spots. After the running drill the ball was placed near midfield and the team went back to the passing game, stressing plays they would run in this area. The top two QBs looked very sharp. Drew Bledsoe hooked up with Jason Witten over the middle and threaded an out to Terry Glenn through good coverage for a first down. Tony Romo earned some good works from the coach for his session. Parcells urged him to get rid of the ball quickly and Romo did, throwing a perfect slant off a three step drop for a big gain. Later, he maintained his patience, stepped forward past the rush and dropped a perfect deep seam pass to Toney Curtis beyond the safeties. Right now, Romo looks decisive and accurate. I’m eager to see him in the preseason games. Dallas ran some red zone passing drills before calling it a day. Parcells assembled the team in the far left corner of the deep field, had them kneel and held some impromtu initiation with OTs Pat McQuistan, who had shaved his hair in a Mohawk, and another player I could not identify. I could not see whether the hair was cut on site or cut before practice. McQuistan was not the most dashing man before the haircut. Let’s just recommend that he keep his helmet on as much as possible now. Notes: – A puzzling practice for Mike Vanderjagt. While the session was going on, he worked alone on the near field with a tee. Most of his kicks were high and true, but fell just short of the crossbar — and this was from 30 and 35 yards. While some people around me questioned his leg strength, I think he was simply kicking to the situation. There was no net behind the goal post and a crowd of autograph seekers at the fence behind him. I think he was kicking to the distance to avoid a hassle getting his balls back from the crowd. He had plenty of leg the day before. I don’t see how he could lose all his strength overnight. – The interesting personel move of the day had Rob Petitti taking all the reps at left tackle, with Marc Columbo taking all of them at RT. Flozell Adams worked LT with the second team. I wouldn’t read too much into this, at least as Adams is concerned. He hasn’t been demoted. Rather, I think this was to see if Petitti could play backup at LT. The only other player to take reps there so far has been the rookie McQuistan. There’s no way Dallas goes into the season with their LT coming off ACL rehab and a rookie as his only tried replacement. I also think that Marc Columbo may be pushing to be the starting RT. He’s shown a lot of mobility and the coaches feel confident running toss plays to the right side for him and Petitti. The veteran who should be concerned by all this is Jason Fabini. He’s stuck at third string RT today and I’ve seen no reps from him at LT. Right now, I think he’s the veteran most likely to miss the final roster.