Dallas Cowboys: First Impressions from Training Camp
The Dallas Cowboys have officially begun their 2014 training camp practices, and as is the case every year, it’s difficult to not overanalyze the early results. It’s always fun to see the players go at it with pads on, especially those players who are new to the team.
The Cowboys have a number of those unknowns too, including free agents like Henry Melton, the rookies and even players like defensive tackle Tyrone Crawford and safety Matt Johnson, who have shown promise but haven’t accomplished much early in their careers.
Examining early reports from various sources, let’s look at some of the first impressions from the Dallas Cowboys' training camp.
CB Morris Claiborne Might Be Growing Up
Third-year cornerback Morris Claiborne might have "grown up a bit" this offseason. Those were head coach Jason Garrett’s words during a recent press conference, anyway. Claiborne has apparently looked like a different player on the field too. Per ESPN Dallas’s Jean-Jacques Taylor:
It was one play, just about as meaningless as can be, considering it was the first day players wore pads, but Morris Claiborne wanted to establish a tone. First, he locked down Terrance Williams, forcing an incompletion. Then he jumped up and started woofing. Eventually, the players were separated.
After practice, Claiborne told ESPN Dallas’s Tim MacMahon, “I can play. I’m that same guy that they traded up to go get.”
There's perhaps no player whose emergence would mean as much to the Cowboys as that of Claiborne.
DT Tyrone Crawford Is Getting Back to His Pre-Injury Form
Last year, the Cowboys were really excited about defensive tackle Tyrone Crawford before he was lost early in training camp. This year, Crawford is quickly showing why there’s buzz surrounding him. Bryan Broaddus of DallasCowboys.com broke down Crawford’s Saturday practice:
Tyrone Crawford appears to have put his injury history behind him at this camp and has really hit the ground running. I thought he was outstanding with the pads on. You can see when you watch him play that his lateral speed and burst have really improved. There is more foot quickness to his game, and he is no longer a lumbering style of linemen. He has always had the effort, motor and pursuit but there is quickness to it.
No matter where Crawford plays along the line—and I’m not even sure the Cowboys know exactly where that will be or how Crawford will be utilized—he has the potential to be an X-factor as a pass-rusher for Dallas. Regardless of his position, expect to see Crawford on the field in passing situations this year.
Devin Street Might Be the Best Rookie Wide Receiver so Far
I thought Devin Street had a strong start in his work against the defensive backs. This club is looking for a guy that can step into that fourth position if the plan continues to be Bryant, Williams and Beasley manning the top three spots. In the one-on-one drills, Street was able to show initial quickness and a burst off the line to gain separation. I like what I observed from his stem speed and the top of the routes mechanics. He wasn’t all over the place in his routes. You could see that he had a plan and he was doing a nice job of executing it.
I expect one of the Cowboys’ three rookie receivers to eventually take over for Cole Beasley as the No. 3 option, and Devin Street probably has the edge as the only one who was drafted. Scouts raved about his route-running ability coming into Dallas, and it looks like he’s living up to the hype in that department.
LB Rolando McClain Looks Good
Speaking on linebacker Rolando McClain, owner Jerry Jones told ESPN Dallas’ Tim MacMahon:
I was glad to see him. I was impressed that they put him right in. I really thought they might ease him in, might need to since he hadn’t had OTAs, hadn’t had the kind of drills. The deal with him, and because of the issue retiring, what you want to see is what you were seeing when he wasn’t in the drill. He was back over there, his body language was great.
McClain missed the opening part of camp while attending a trial in Alabama, and he’s currently facing 18 days in jail. The addition was interesting for Dallas because there’s typically an inverse relationship between on-field talent and how well a player fits the “right kind of guy” mold Dallas has set. The less talent a player has, the more he needs to provide in terms of character, work ethic and so on.
For McClain to fit into Dallas, he’ll need to show that he loves football and is willing to work to rebound from his early-career struggles, which is why Jones’ quote is so important.
Rookie DT Davon Coleman Could Be a Sleeper
I’ve raved about rookie defensive tackle Davon Coleman since he was drafted because I think he can be a potential difference-maker on the inside. Although he has short 31.25-inch arms, Coleman recorded 15 tackles for loss and 8.5 sacks in 2013 alone. Bryan Broaddus liked what he saw from Coleman in Sunday’s practice:
As good as Henry Melton and Tyrone Crawford looked Saturday on the defensive line, rookie Davon Coleman was right there with them. Coleman had been lining up all over the line but in this practice he saw the majority of his action playing as the three technique next to Terrell McClain. There were several times during the practice where he would beat a block on the front side and end up in the backfield near the ball or use a spin move on a pass rush to throw the blocker off balance, working his way to the quarterback. It was impressive that every time I looked up, he was making some type of disruptive play.
I now think there’s a better-than-not chance that Coleman makes the roster. I was unsure how he’d perform in camp because short-armed linemen often struggle to get off of blocks. The fact that he’s impressing early is a great sign and evidence that his college production might translate to the pros.