Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Best of Camp: We Hand Out Trophies For Cowboy's Work In Oxnard

By Mike Fisher --

The Cowboys have been camping for less than two weeks, and the big award is six months away from being earned. So, as we twiddle our football thumbs in anticipation of something resembling "real football'' (this weekend!) let’s give away some little awards.

MOST WORKMANLIKE PLAYER IN CAMP: There are other tight ends in the league who run faster or jump higher or have more tattoos. But Jason Witten – a security blanket so valued by Tony Romo that the QB says he’ll retire as soon as Witten does – may be among the most consistent players at any position in all of football. At camp, he’s been almost robotic in his high level of performance. He is this Cowboys generation’s version of Daryl Johnson … except Witten can run faster and jump higher.

WORST DISAPPOINTMENT IN CAMP: It’s an awfully short list. Um, Dave Campo’s not wearing a wetsuit? Jessica Simpson’s not wearing a swimsuit? We’ll go with Terence Newman’s groin injury. As deep as Dallas suddenly is in the secondary, a Pacman/T-New tandem at the corners (with Anthony Henry as a nickel back?) represents a Dream Team. Newman limping around for a couple of weeks on a groin that, when it comes to recovery time, can have a mind of its own? Nightmarish.

MOST PLEASANT SURPRISE OF CAMP: Admit it. You were prepared to endure Pacman Jones being a complete idiot, a *******, a cancer. You were going to put up with it as long as he helped you win football games. Well, he’s done nothing idiotic, nothing *******ish, nothing cancerous. He seems like a kid who might be a bit rudderless when it comes to off-the-field decisions. … but who is completely in his element on the field. He is confident without being arrogant, he is flashy without being empty, and he’s being cooperative (with the media, coaches and teammates, all of whom seem to dig him) without losing his edge. At the risk of overselling this deal – and of course, we’re still waiting to hear from the Commissioner – I’m going to go out on this limb: I used to watch Deion Sanders in practice every day. Pacman Jones has been pretty close to Deionesque.

TOP TACKLER OF CAMP: We’ll go with the rangy Zach Thomas, who is going to give Bradie James a tackling run for his money. Thomas, the long-time Miami Pro Bowler, last year played just five games for the Dolphins and yet recorded a rather astounding 58 tackles. He’s not necessarily the top tackler in terms of blowing people up – once the regular-season gun is sounded, Roy Williams will do all he can to win that award – but Thomas is absolutely the top guy in camp when it comes to using his guile, his instincts, his toughness, his quickness and his will to get to the ball. He won’t end up being an every-down ‘backer; Dallas is too deep to bother asking him to do that. But when he is on the field, he’ll be a tackle-every-available-ballcarrier ’backer.

TOP HITTER IN CAMP: “Hitter’’ as opposed to “tackler’’ because Marion Barber III never gets to tackle anybody – but that doesn’t stop him from hitting. Whether it’s in pass protection on with the ball in his hands, MB3’s fattened wallet hasn’t changed his punishing approach.

TOP BLOCKER OF CAMP: Flozell Adams. Once the games begin, he’ll encounter a few problems with false-start penalties. But otherwise, he’ll do in games what he does in practice: execute almost flawlessly to protect the gilded quarterback’s blind side.

TOP NEWCOMER IN CAMP: Pacman and Zach have already been cited. Let’s spread the wealth in anticipation of what rookies Mike Jenkins and Felix Jones might be able to do. We can hope cornerback Jenkins is never called upon this year, but in camp, when he takes his turns, he fits right in with other bigger-named defensive backs who, as a group, might be the NFL’s best secondary. (Oh, and with T-New hurt, some of the turns Jenkins takes are with the first team.) We can hope Felix isn’t needed, too. But given Marion Barber’s running style, we wouldn’t count on that. Felix runs with an enthusiasm, and a freshness, that could come in handy as MB3 absorbs pounding into December.

MOST IMPROVED OFFENSIVE PLAYER: Offensive lineman Joe Berger might be the unit’s sixth man. Or he might be the fifth.

MOST IMPROVED DEFENSIVE PLAYER: Roy Williams. That’s what the coaches tell me. Seriously. I dunno. … maybe he’ll be improved because he’ll play less, be Peter Principled less? But he’s had a good camp. So let’s hope for more of the same.

TOP OFFENSIVE PLAYMAKER IN CAMP: Hundreds of “ahhs’’ and “oohs’’ and eyes cannot be wrong, and when the ball is in the air, and the target is Terrell Owens, and the two are about to meet. … the tantalizing anticipation is palpable. The other pass-catchers in camp are attempting to master the “little things’’; route-running and concentration and footwork. T.O. is miles ahead of everybody in large part because he’s a master of the “big things.’’

The largest of those “big things,’’ of course, is touchdowns. But the deal where he hands out personalized T-shirts to different position groups (and even to some media members)? If you believe in camp chemistry, in team chemistry, T-shirts can be a “big thing,’’ too.

TOP DEFENSIVE PLAYMAKER IN CAMP: Coaches are supposed to say things like, “Well, we can’t really judge until we get into full contact, when the bullets are really flying, the real games, you know.’ … But coaches are not bothering to blabber “wait-and-sees’’ with Demarcus Ware. It’s there. You can see it. Part of the reason for it: Even when it’s just a drill, in shorts and shells, Demarcus Ware is still performing as if the bullets ARE flying.

CAMP MVP: Tony Romo is so comfortable in his role as the centerpiece of the franchise that he’s experimenting in camp with different footwork, different throwing angles, stuff like that. … It’s the sort of things long-time veterans do, but the Dallas quarterback – as young as he is -- is ready to stride into that “long-time veteran’’ mode. The “aw-shucks’’ crap isn’t going to work with the public forever; you can’t be a superstar QB contending for a Super Bowl while dating a Hollywood starlet and still go on forever pretending you are Jethro Bodine. But everything he does works with the people on the team, and the rest of the fellas – black and white, offensive and defensive, rich and less rich, rally around him.

TOP REMINDER IN CAMP THAT DALLAS DOES NOT SUCK: No gloating here, but it seems like forever ago that Bill Parcells was the tyrannical Dallas coach and that Quincy Carter was the lost-soul Dallas quarterback. … And now they are reunited in Miami?

After less than two weeks of NFL training camp, the Dolphins are like most teams: they can only dream of being able to collect the bling the way the Cowboys might.

Dallas does not suck.