Monday, August 19, 2013
California Wrap: Calvin Watkins
By Calvin Watkins
After 21 practices or walkthroughs in Oxnard, Calif., ESPN Dallas' Calvin Watkins, Todd Archer and Tim MacMahon hand out their training camp awards and disappointments.
Best player, offense: Dez Bryant. Who else? He's been a dominant force from the first day of practice. He's making one-handed, leaping and diving catches. Bryant is not beating the cornerbacks badly -- there are times when Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne apply perfect coverage -- but somehow he's able to make the catch. Bryant is also showing a command of the offense like never before, meaning he's going to be a scary man to cover in 2013.
Best player, offense, not named Dez Bryant: DeMarco Murray is running to contact, displaying speed and finished training camp strong. There will always be questions about Murray's health, but based on what he's been through here -- getting knocked around by the Cowboys' defense -- he should be fine. Murray is showing a burst and a quickness through the holes, which is a positive sign moving forward.
Best player, defense: DeMarcus Ware is an unstoppable force. He's showing no signs of last season's injury, which he played with during the last month of the 2012 season. He had shoulder surgery and has recovered nicely. In his new position at defensive end, Ware doesn't have any problems beating Tyron Smith at left tackle. And the few times he's lined up against Doug Free in one-on-one drills, he's taken charge of him, too.
Best player, defense, not named DeMarcus Ware: This isn't anything against Sean Lee, Bruce Carter, Will Allen or Carr, but Jason Hatcher has been outstanding. Hatcher enters his contract year in need of a big season at a new position. He moved from defensive end in a 3-4 to a 4-3 defensive tackle and has made numerous tackles for loss, sacks and quarterback pressures during camp.
Best rookie: There was considerable debate after the Cowboys traded down in the first round of the NFL draft to select Travis Frederick, who has moved right into the starting center spot. Despite concerns about his speed, Frederick has displayed a quickness to the second level on run blocks and has had only a few bad snaps to quarterback Tony Romo. Frederick has some position flexibility with his abilities to move to guard, but for now he's solidified a role at center.
Biggest surprise: The Cowboys struggled to run the football last season, mostly because of injuries and ineffective play on the offensive line. The Cowboys now have four strong running backs, led by Murray and followed up by the speedy Lance Dunbar and rookie Joseph Randle. Combine that with Phillip Tanner's physical style, and the Cowboys' running backs appear to be a strong unit.
Biggest disappointment: The Cowboys drafted Gavin Escobar in the second round with the goal of moving him into a 12 personnel role with Jason Witten. Escobar is third on the depth chart behind James Hanna and Witten. Escobar needs to pick up more weight to improve with his blocking. Despite being good in the passing game, his development is slowly progressing.
Biggest question answered: Jason Garrett has moved into his new role as a walk-around head coach with ease. He still had command by making veterans speak in front of the team, giving the squad days off when necessary and becoming a force behind the scenes. Garrett kicked entire units to the sideline for mistakes and wasn't afraid to yell at players in public. Garrett might not be calling the plays, but he's still in charge.
Biggest question remains: From the opening moment of training camp, the Cowboys had injury problems with several players along the offensive line. The projected starters at guard were injured, and the backup for the left guard spot (Ronald Leary) suffered a knee injury toward the end of camp. The Cowboys tried to rectify the problem by offering a contract to Brandon Moore, but he decided to retire. Health is the biggest question, and until that gets cleared up, issues remain.
Best moment: The one-on-one battles between Bryant and Carr were outstanding. There was one play in which both men did the right thing, but Bryant's abilities to catch passes from different angles won the duel. Carr had Bryant pinned along the sideline and Romo threw a pass in that direction, but somehow Bryant was able to snag the ball one-handed. The ball landed in the cuff of Bryant's arm for a completion.