After three training camp practices to start the week, the Dallas Cowboys are off today. Here's a look at how some of the team's most notable rookies are performing early, along with my analysis.
Cornerback Morris Claiborne
Rookie cornerbacks tend to struggle more than first-year players at other positions, which is why it isn't surprising to read that Claiborne has been slow to adapt to the pace in Oxnard. From Calvin Watkins of ESPNDallas.com:
"He's taken on Dez Bryant, Miles Austin, Kevin Ogletree and Raymond Radway, who have beaten him for deep and short passes."
Here's a specific snippet from Wednesday's practice, per Todd Archer of ESPNDallas.com:
"Dez Bryant was able to shrug off CB Morris Claiborne twice, but the rookie came back on the last rep and did a nice job slowing Bryant off the line."
I think some Cowboys fans are expecting Claiborne to step in and dominate. It rarely works that way with corners, and in this division especially. I really think the team should consider using Mike Jenkins more than Claiborne early, but I know that's not going to happen.
Great take from defensive backs coach Jerome Henderson, via David Moore of the Dallas Morning News:
"I would say right now, he's like a baby puppy. He doesn't know. He's out here running around having fun and playing and making mistakes."
That's right. Not just a puppy, but a baby puppy.
Defensive End Tyrone Crawford
Rookie DE Tyrone Crawford is wearing a sleeve on his right calf. He missed most of the offseason with a calf injury. It didn't stop him from pushing the pocket on QB Kyle Orton to force an incomplete pass. Undrafted rookie DE Ben Bass forced a Stephen McGee scramble with a pressure. Unfortunately, McGee broke contain and had a nice pickup.
Additionally, this thread from Blogging the Boys indicates the Boise State product had a stellar practice on Wednesday. I wasn't expecting a ton from him early, so this is a pleasant surprise.
Linebacker Kyle Wilber
And from Archer, we have an example of Crawford and Wilber working well together, which is great to hear:
Rookie OLB Kyle Wilber took advantage of Wesley on one play with one of the bigger hits of the practice on the TCU-ex. The hit was made easier after DE Tyrone Crawford slipped through the line to slow down the running play.
And another endorsement of Wilber from Tuesday, via Blogging the Boys:
From what I saw, Kyle Wilber had a very good day. I saw at least two plays in which he would have recorded a sack and another one in which he blocked a pass. Today at least it looked like the offense had no answer for Wilber. The autocorrect function on my phone kept spelling Wilber as "Wilberforce". Today, Wilber was indeed a force on the field. And I kind of like that name so I think I'll stick with it. Wilberforce. Niiice.
A lot of people expected the undersized fourth-round pick to work with the third-stringers and come along slowly, but by all indications, he's looked great thus far. The Cowboys would probably love to see him beat out Victor Butler to earn reps behind DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer.
Safety Matt Johnson
He's been slowed by injuries, and Barry Church has been killing it. Even with Brodney Pool taking a hit by failing his initial conditioning test, it looks like Johnson will start the year buried on the safety depth chart.
Wide Receiver Danny Coale
The fifth-round pick out of Virginia Tech could have a shot at the open No. 3 receiver spot but he's yet to hit the field because of a foot injury. He should be back soon, though, and no one else has emerged to grab the slot reins yet.
Tight End James Hanna
"I think James Hanna caught every ball thrown his way. He showed soft hands, looked the ball into his hands and in general looked like what his measurables indicate he could be."
Most have considered it a foregone conclusion that the sixth-round pick will be the third tight end, but he's looked good enough early on that he might be able to give John Phillips a run for his money. Either way, I think Hanna's a lock to make the roster.
Linebacker Caleb McSurdy
The only time he's been mentioned is when he was reportedly being "a little too rambunctious."
In other words, not a lot to go on this early. No grade yet here.
Wide Receiver Tim Benford
Tim Benford has had a nice start to camp, but it might take some time for people to forget his drop when he was unable to hold on to an Orton deep ball with no defender within 15 yards.
There are going to be ups and downs this early, and I've heard some real good reviews pertaining to the undrafted Benford thus far. There's a huge opportunity for the Tennessee Tech product, and he turned heads earlier this week.
The guys at Blogging the Boys have been happy with Benford all week:
In fact, he's had three good days in a row, and he'll find himself in the running for a roster spot if he continues at this pace. In many ways, Benford reminds me of Patrick Crayton. Benford doesn't look spectacular, but plays a very solid game. He catches almost everything and looks smooth in his route-running. He again caught some nice balls today but also spectacularly missed on a long pass that found him uncovered en route to the endzone.
And a final take on Benford from Bryan Broaddus of DallasCowboys.com:
Disappointed that wide receiver Tim Benford went off the field today because he needed an IV due to the heat. I thought yesterday was an outstanding first day and that was going to carry over. Benford plays much faster than his timed speed and he has a feel for how to get in and out of his cuts. Had a drop on the vertical route where he had Claiborne beat, but the majority of the time, his hands are reliable. The Cowboys front office had a sixth round grade on him on their draft board, so they thought enough of him.
He's in the thick of the competition. The receivers are the guys to watch this August.
Guard Ronald Leary
The undrafted free agent has earned first-team reps as a result of several injuries to the interior of the offensive line. Jerry Jones seems to really like Leary, who only fell off draft boards because of injury concerns. If he can hold up, he'll likely make the 53-man roster. He's been far from perfect in camp, but the line is in poor shape, so simply staying healthy might be the key right now.
Ronald Leary is getting some looks at guard and looks pretty good. He's physical, meaning he's holding up his blocks and while there was some concerns about his chronic knee issue, he moved pretty well laterally on a screen pass. On a run play, he stood up a charging Sean Lee, which was good to see. Leary had a false start and was replaced briefly.
Wide Receiver Cole Beasley
Another undrafted free agent, the SMU product was turning heads early in camp. He's only 5'8" and 170 pounds, but he made a highlight-reel grab last week and has been consistently impressing the coaches all offseason. He's had some trouble on special teams this week, though, and that could cost him.