Dallas Cowboys: Play of the day

Play of the day: Hail Mary to Andre Holmes

August, 11, 2012
OXNARD, Calif. – The Cowboys' final practice before their preseason opener ended on a high point.

Andre Holmes went up in a crowd to come down with a Hail Mary from Kyle Orton on the final play of Saturday’s practice.

It capped a third consecutive strong day for Holmes, who is rebounding strong after flunking the conditioning test and struggling in his early practices. He made several contested catches Saturday.

For Holmes to play a significant role, he has to use his 6-foot-4, 223-pound frame to his advantage. The Hail Mary was a perfect example of that kind of play. Holmes looked like a power forward going up for a rebound, catching the ball at the top of his leap with both hands and holding on as several hands hacked away on his way down.

Play of the Day: Bryan McCann battles

August, 18, 2010
OXNARD, Calif. – The undrafted rookie cornerback hasn’t looked hesitant since the Cowboys landed in California.

SMU’s Bryan McCann played timid a lot of the time in the Alamodomo, but he’s made a lot of plays in Oxnard. His most impressive play so far came when he outfought Miles Austin for a ball in the Wednesday morning practice.

Tony Romo tried to hit Austin on a back-shoulder fade in the end zone, but McCann got a hand on the ball. The Pro Bowl receiver and rookie corner both had a chance to grab it at that point, but McCann came down with the ball, getting both feet down inbounds for the interception.

“When their hands go up, we put our hands up and just try to break the pocket,” McCann said. “That’s what I did. I was leaning into him to break the pocket, and usually when you hit the ball it will fall, but that time the ball just kind of was suspended in the air for a quick second. We kind of bobbled it around and I just pulled it out of the air and hung onto it.”

Secondary coach Dave Campo jogged over to McCann, offering him a fist bump and some encouragement.

Campo said earlier in camp that he’s intrigued by McCann’s 4.35 speed and ball skills. But Campo wanted to see McCann be more aggressive, something that has happened over the last week.

McCann, whose preseason debut was cut short when he suffered a chest contusion on a punt return, said he’s more confident after getting extended playing time in last week’s loss to the Raiders.

“Everybody would ask me how I was doing,” McCann said. “I would say I’m doing my job, but I didn’t necessarily feel that I was making an impact. Now I feel like I’m trying to make the transition from doing my job to making plays and making an impact.”

Play of the Day: Miles Austin goes low

August, 16, 2010
OXNARD, Calif. – Miles Austin’s drops disease was apparently a one-day malaise.

Austin, who dropped five passes during Sunday’s two practices, responded by performing like a Pro Bowler the next day.

A shoestring catch highlighted Austin’s magnificent Monday. Tony Romo’s throw on an out route was low, but Austin gracefully grabbed the ball a few inches off the ground as safety Barry Church dove in front of him to try to deflect the pass.

The most impressive part of the play was that Austin didn’t break his stride to make the scoop. He immediately turned upfield and took a few steps into the end zone for a 25-yard touchdown.

Play of the Day: Bradie James' big hit

August, 15, 2010
OXNARD, Calif. – Bradie James’ bearded face broke out into a big grin when his big hit on Herb Donaldson was mentioned.

“Y’all saw that hit?” James said.

Yep, we saw it. And we heard it, too, loud and clear from across the field.

James met Donaldson in the hole and delivered a vicious blow right between his numbers. Donaldson dropped instantly, landing a yard back on his butt. The defensive players hopped around and howled in celebration.

Wade Phillips doesn’t want tackling in his camp, and James followed the letter of the law by not following through after the initial pop. Plus, a veteran linebacker can get away with blowing up the fourth-string running back.

“My role is to be the bruiser. That’s it,” James said. “What I’m working on with my game is just getting in the hole and exploding. It didn’t matter who it is. And it was clean.”

Play of the Day: Pick by Cletis Gordon

August, 14, 2010
OXNARD, Calif. -- One play summed up the training camps so far of two players fighting for roles.

Cornerback Cletis Gordon was in the right place. Kevin Ogletree was not.

The result was an easy interception for Gordon, who practiced for the first time since straining his neck in the Hall of Fame game. It was unofficially his eighth pick of camp.

Ogletree broke his route outside. Tony Romo threw the ball inside.

When a veteran quarterback and second-year receiver aren’t on the same page, it’s usually safe to assume the route runner is at fault. It was another misstep for a talented receiver whose position coach said earlier in the day that he has hit a plateau.

Play of the Day: Tony Romo's touch throw

August, 5, 2010
SAN ANTONIO – The coverage by Sean Lee was outstanding. The throw by Tony Romo was better.

Lee blanketed running back Felix Jones on a wheel route during red-zone drills, but Romo floated a rainbow that landed right in Jones’ arms for a touchdown.

It had to be a perfect touch pass to get to Jones. If Romo doesn’t put the right arch on the throw, Lee either knocks it away or intercepts it. It’s an incompletion if Romo puts it too far out in front of Jones.

Even though Lee got beat on the play, it was proof of his ability to keep up with speedy backs in coverage. It was just a Pro Bowl pass, a reminder to the rookie linebacker that he isn’t in the Big Ten any more.

Play of the Day: Tony Romo's throw

August, 3, 2010
SAN ANTONIO – The back-shoulder throw on a fade route in the end zone is one of the most beautiful plays in football.

It was also a focus of Tony Romo’s offseason work, which made his strike to Roy Williams during red-zone drills Tuesday morning especially significant.

Romo recognizes the need to be more efficient in the red zone after ranking near the bottom of the league’s starting quarterback in red-zone passer rating last season. He realizes that the size of his wide receivers should give the Cowboys an advantage in the tighter space constraints inside the 20, which should make the back-shoulder throw a big weapon.

“If you watch film and tape over the years, you get a sense for what we could do, or what’s hurt us, or what are we not doing really well,” Romo said. “What coverages or what type of defenses give us the most trouble, I guess you would say. … But that back-shoulder throw can hurt a lot of defenses. They want to come after you. They want to get up in your face.”

But that back-shoulder throw isn’t easy to execute. It requires the quarterback and receiver to simultaneously make the same read to break off a route designed to be a jump ball in the back corner of the end zone.

Romo and Williams pulled it off perfectly against Pro Bowl cornerback Mike Jenkins. With a refreshed right arm, Romo fired a laser beam behind Williams. With hands apparently no longer ailing from a drastic case of the dropsies, Williams caught the ball cleanly after adjusting at the last split-second. Jenkins, who was playing press coverage, didn’t see the ball until it was in Williams’ mitts.

That play is a work in progress. It was incomplete when Romo and Williams tried it again during the afternoon practice.

But if they can beat Jenkins with it, the rest of the corners on the Cowboys’ schedule better beware of the back-shoulder throw.

Play of the Day: Alan Ball's love tap

August, 2, 2010
SAN ANTONIO – If you want to get on Alan Ball’s bad side, ask him about his size.

He knows he’s undersized for a safety, even after bulking up to 190 pounds this offseason. But he firmly believes that he’s physical enough to be effective as the Cowboys’ starting free safety.

The short-yardage and goal-line work during Monday afternoon’s practice offered Ball an opportunity to prove himself. He held his own but wasn’t happy when 6-foot-5, 265-pound tight end John Phillips roughed him up on a running play.

Ball got payback the next play.

It was a play-action pass to Phillips, who ran a drag route across the field to the left flat. In man coverage, Ball read the play quickly and made an impressive break to arrive a split-second after the pass, keeping Phillips from gaining the yard he needed to get into the end zone.

The Cowboys aren’t supposed to tackle during training camp, but Ball delivered a pretty good pop that put Phillips on the Alamdome turf.

“On the play before, he had put his hands on me,” Ball said. “I just had to give him a little love tap.”

Play of the Day: Marc Colombo on move

July, 31, 2010
SAN ANTONIO – Poor Jamar Wall.

The sixth-round cornerback simply had no chance. He gives up 10 inches and 120 pounds to right tackle Marc Colombo, who had a 15-yard head of steam when he sent Wall sprawling butt-first into the end zone.

The play-call during red zone drills in the morning practice was a quick screen to Felix Jones on the right side. Tony Romo lofts a swing pass to Jones, so Colombo has to really move to escort the scatback around the corner. He got out in front of Jones and escorted him into the end zone with a bang Saturday morning.

“He can run,” said offensive line coach Hudson Houck, who added that Colombo is crafty when it comes to releasing around defensive ends. “He’s a big, old, tall guy, but he gets out there.”

The Cowboys have had success in recent years running sweeps that require Colombo to pull. They also preferred to run screens his way.

With Doug Free on the left side instead of Flozell Adams, they can run those kinds of plays either way. We got a glimpse of that during the afternoon practice, when Free walled off a cornerback to allow Miles Austin to scoot into the end zone for a short touchdown on a quick screen.

"Flo was not very good at it," Houck said in an understatement. "Now we can go right, we can go left. It gives us more flexibility. What happens now is, if you go inside blitz on us, we’re outside real fast. We’ve got ways to get it out there fast."

Play of the Day: Red zone Roy Williams

July, 30, 2010
SAN ANTONIO – The practice will be remembered for Dez Bryant injuring his right ankle, but the receiver the rookie is trying to replace made the most impressive play.

During red zone 7-on-7 drills, Roy Williams got open on a seam route and caught a strike from Tony Romo in the end zone. Offensive coordinator Jason Garrett gave Williams credit for recognizing that the safety had outside position and reacting by bending the route toward the middle of the field.

Williams didn’t do a lot right last season, but he was the Cowboys’ best red zone weapon. Romo targeted him 14 times in the red zone in 2009, with Williams catching eight of the passes and scoring on six.

“He’s a big, tall guy with long arms and very good hands,” Garrett said. “A lot of the plays that are made down there are those contested kind of plays. He has a feel for the routes we’re running and where the holes are.”

Play of the Day: Kevin Ogletree's catch

July, 29, 2010
SAN ANTONIO – Kevin Ogletree has had a slight case of the dropsies recently, but he made a clean catch of a Jon Kitna deep ball during Thursday’s practice.

Ogletree read the coverage to determine that he would run a corner route instead of a post, and Kitna put the ball on the money, probably his best throw of camp so far. Safety Danny McCray had no chance to catch Ogletree, who raced into the end zone for the touchdown.

The play offered a reminder of Ogletree’s big-play potential. He’s the Cowboys’ fastest receiver with 4.36 speed, and coach Wade Phillips said his route-running ability reminds him of ex-Cowboy Terry Glenn.

“I told him to stay consistent,” receivers coach Ray Sherman said. “You don’t want to be a guy who does something well then get a couple plays then you are doing something else, you want to be consistent.”

Play of the Day: Doug Free's stand

July, 28, 2010
SAN ANTONIO – This space is usually reserved for the spectacular, but we’ll go with flawless fundamentals from Wednesday’s practice.

It’s not often that you see DeMarcus Ware get stoned in 1-on-1 pass-rushing drills. Doug Free pulled off that feat.

Ware tried an inside-out move, but Free didn’t bite on the fake. He set his feet, waited for Ware to come his way and delivered a strong two-hand punch.

One of the NFL’s premier pass rushers was stopped in his tracks.

The Cowboys believe the 6-foot-6, 320-pound Free, who performed well in seven starts at right tackle last season, is well suited to protect Tony Romo’s blind side because of his quick feet. But Ware has mentioned that Free is much more powerful than people think.

“Man, he’s strong,” Ware said Tuesday.

Free proved Ware right, at the All-Pro’s expense, the next day.

Play of the Day: Alan Ball's break

July, 27, 2010
SAN ANTONIO – The Cowboys need Alan Ball to have a nose for the ball.

The primary reason Ken Hamlin got cut – well, other than his contract – is that the Cowboys want a playmaking free safety. Ball doesn’t have any career interceptions, but the Cowboys believe the converted cornerback fits the bill.

He provided some proof during Tuesday afternoon’s practice, making a great break on Jon Kitna’s throw to Patrick Crayton on a curl route and coming up with a diving interception.

“It’s just scanning the field, knowing what’s where and reading the quarterback,” Ball said. “When he threw the ball, I had a good break on the ball. I think Bradie [James] got a little tip on the ball, and I was at the right place at the right time.”

It was Ball’s second interception of camp, an encouraging sign for a defense that ranked near the bottom of team pick totals the last two seasons. Hamlin had a total of one pick in the last two seasons.
After a year of working at safety, Ball believes he can be a playmaker at the position.

“The more you get a chance to look at the quarterback, the better feel you get for where he’s going with the ball and when he’s going to deliver the ball,” Ball said. “Once you get that, you can get yourself around the ball.”

Play of the Day: Dez does it again

July, 26, 2010
SAN ANTONIO – It’s getting monotonous to give Dez Bryant props in this space, but the dude keeps making spectacular plays.

And it’s often against Pro Bowl competition.

Bryant got a step on Mike Jenkins while running a stutter-go during 1-on-1 drills, which is an impressive feat in itself. Then Bryant came back to snare an underthrown pass from Matt Nichols, making a leaping catch and falling into the end zone for a 45-yard touchdown.

It was the second time Bryant got a step on Jenkins deep during the session. Jenkins managed to recover to deflect a slightly underthrown pass the previous time.

Bryant is likely to see a lot of man coverage this season, with opponents having to scheme to stop Miles Austin and Jason Witten. He’s proven that he can create major problems in those situations.

“They can’t cover Miles one-on-one,” Bryant said Sunday. “I’m pretty sure they’re going to double him, and that’s going to leave the rest of us open to make a play.

“When I see it, I’m going to get excited.”

He won’t be the only one.

Play of the Day: Dez's juggling act

July, 25, 2010
SAN ANTONIO – Dez Bryant made a play-of-the-day type of catch in the morning session, when he laid out to catch a deep ball with Pro Bowl cornerback Mike Jenkins all over him.

But Bryant made an even better catch in the afternoon session.

It was a busted play that turned into a thing of beauty. A botched exchange killed the timing of a flea-flicker, resulting in backup quarterback Jon Kitna scrambling around before throwing the ball up for grabs down the right sideline.

Bryant, who came back toward the line of scrimmage when he saw Kitna in trouble, soared over rookie cornerback Bryan McCann to get his fingertips on the high pass. He tipped it to himself and snatched it with his right hand as he landed.

“That’s ridiculous,” a veteran standing on the sideline said.

It was without question an amazing display of athleticism, body control and hands. However, there was some debate whether Bryant got both feet inbounds.

“I think I got two in,” Bryant said. “I don’t know. They don’t [have instant replay], so it counts.”