CARROLLTON, Texas — Many people, myself included, have expressed apprehension about the Cowboys this offseason.
After falling short of the playoffs in 2008, stumbling to a 9-7 record after an ugly 44-6 blowout loss to the Eagles in the regular-season finale, the Cowboys were hoping for addition by subtraction after cutting playmaker Terrell Owens.
It’s early, but I came away impressed after the final day of the Cowboys’ three-day minicamp. The camp, held at a great high-school facility in Carrollton, Texas, due to the damages done to the Cowboys’ practice facility, showcased some promising newcomers and young up-and-comers ready for their opportunity.
Joe DeCamillis, the special teams coach who suffered a broken vertebrae after the collapse of the team’s the practice structure, showed enthusiasm in leading the special teams units. Now, it may sound hard to get excited about special teams when it’s 98 degrees outside in June, but for the first 15 minutes of practice, DeCamillis took over, showing off a renewed vigor in the Cowboys’ special teams. P Mat McBriar is back from injury, and the punt coverage and punt return groups looked much better.
This looks like a faster team than last year, especially on defense. The addition of LB Keith Brooking gives the linebackers more speed. Two second-year cornerbacks, Orlando Scandrick and Mike Jenkins, are going to one way or another be the second and third corners. But maybe the most valuable addition in the secondary will be S Gerald Sensabaugh, who came to the Cowboys as a free agent from the Jaguars, and makes the defense better. In minicamp, he was making sure the defense was lined up correctly and he moved around really well.
Two more defensive players to keep an eye on are rookies: S Michael Hamlin out of Clemson and DE/LB Brandon Williams out of Texas Tech. Both had good minicamps.
On the offensive side of the ball, Dallas’ top two running backs showed why they are perhaps the top tandem in the NFL. Marion Barber, who battled the injury bug last year, and Felix Jones, the team’s first-round pick last year, form a dangerous duo. And then you add in Tashard Choice, who ran for nearly 500 yards last season as a rookie. Those three backs really looked good in minicamp.
But probably the most impressive player from last year to this year was TE Martellus Bennett. He is going to create mismatches as a second tight end opposite Jason Witten. The tight end tandem is as good as any in league. The Cowboys even worked on flanking out Bennett at wide receiver on Wednesday.
WR Roy E. Williams was sporting a No. 4 jersey at practice instead of his usual No. 11 in homage to the number he wore while at the University of Texas. He has never looked better. You could tell Williams really committed to the offseason weight program.
As for the quarterback situation, backup Jon Kitna looked really good in drills, as did rookie draft pick Stephen McGee out of Texas A&M.
All in all, the team looked like it had a lot more enthusiasm. More guys were clued in with what was going on, and that bodes well for the Cowboys heading into training camp. While T.O. may have created friction in the locker room, his absence seems to be bringing the team closer together.
– Gil Brandt