Thursday, August 07, 2008

DMN Blog: Live from Oxnard XX: Martellus Bennett excused for personal reasons

by Tim MacMahon

Weather: 73 and sunny.

Don't expect a whole lot of competitive action this afternoon. Wade Phillips said during his press conference that this would be more of a "rehearsal practice" for Saturday's game in San Diego. The Cowboys, who aren't wearing pads, will run through the plays and defensive schemes they plan to use against the Chargers.

If anything exciting happens on the field, I'll be sure to let you know. But we probably ought to do like yesterday morning and make this an impromptu chat session. Fire away with questions and I'll answer after the jump.

4:23 -- We shouldn't expect to see the Jones boys (Pacman and Felix) as return men much vs. San Diego. They're the favorites for those jobs during the regular season -- Pacman on punts and possibly kickoffs, Felix on kickoffs -- but Phillips wants to see what some other guys can do. Danny Amendola will be the primary punt returner, and "some young backs" other than Felix will get most of the kick return work.

4:26 -- I can't help but giggle when I see Dave Campo now after the Hard Knocks pantsing scene. That tops the Sea World stuff from the original Hard Knocks. That reminds me that I need to ask if he's packing his wet suit for the trip to San Diego. ... One more Hard Knocks note: Wade Phillips wishes that the HBO show would have done a better job explaining that practices are physical despite the no-tackling rule. He's a little sensitive about that issue after all the Camp Cupcake silliness last summer.

4:31 -- You can't really judge whether a guy is a good special teams player based on what we've seen during training camp. The bullets aren't flying when they work on special teams out here. From what I saw at Texas Tech, Amendola is a reliable punt returner in the sense that he will consistently field the ball. He's no Wes Welker, who set an NCAA record for punt return TDs. ... Let's hold off a bit before putting Amendola in three-WR packages. I like his chances to make the 53-man roster, but that's far from a sure thing. Phillips singled Amendola out as somebody he's looking forward to watching in San Diego. The coaches are curious to see if the undrafted rookie is as good in game situations as he's been out here.

4:36 -- Stretching just started. ... Hard Knocks star Martellus Bennett, who has received mixed reviews for his on-field performance in his rookie training camp, is not out there. We will let you know why as soon as we know.

4:37 -- I have not discussed practice-squad candidate WRs with any coaches, so this is pure speculation. But, based on what I've seen, Mike Jefferson and Todd Lowber are above Mark Bradford. ... It is too early to talk practice squad and who might slip through waivers. Here's why: These guys have yet to play a preseason snap. Guys who perform well in the preseason and get cut obviously have a much better chance of catching on with another team. QB Matt Moore didn't wow anybody at the Alamodome last summer, but he played very well in the preseason. That's why he's a Carolina Panther now.

4:42 -- I'm not sure whether Roy Williams has improved his coverage skills, but his deficiencies is that are won't matter as much with Anthony Henry replacing him in the nickel and dime this season. I haven't talked to Williams out here, but he does seem more confident and less defensive. I think that the talk Brian Stewart and Brett Maxie had with him this summer did some good, and Dave Campo's enthusiasm might be rubbing off on Williams, too. Plus, he knows that he has to perform well if he wants to be a Cowboy next season. The best-case scenario for Williams is that he gets back to being an intimidating, fumble-forcing beast on first and second downs. ... Oh, and one more thing about Williams: I don't put much stock into talk about him slimming down. We heard the same thing last summer.

4:48 -- I don't have a problem with Wade Phillips' no-tackling policy during training camp. If it makes them any less tough, it seems like we would have seen that in the first few months of last season. It's not like it suddenly affected the Cowboys in December. And the practices in pads are physical. It's full speed with the exception of tackling. The only thing they aren't doing in the trenches is cut blocking.

4:52 -- They're jogging through plays. Don't count on anything newsworthy coming out of this practice. Need more questions.

4:56 -- Media celebrity sighting: ESPN's John Clayton is here. He just had the exciting experience of watching Richard Bartel roll to his left at half speed and throw a strike to Temptations-singing TE Drew Atchison.

5:00 -- Second-round TE Martellus Bennett has been excused from today's practice for personal reasons, per a team spokesman. More on that situation as we learn details.

5:02 -- I do think that we'll see a decent amount of screens to Felix Jones this season. Jason Garrett and Co. want to get the ball to Jones in space a bunch, and screens are one way to do it. We've also seen them working on a TE screen to Jason Witten. ... Rookie Darrell Robertson, who they're trying to turn into an OLB, hasn't done anything to catch my eye. The practice squad is his best hope. ... The Cowboys have no intention to give up a draft pick for a backup QB. There is a good chance that they'd pick up a veteran off the waiver wire. If Chris Simms gets released, the Cowboys will go after him.

5:06 -- Brad Johnson will be the backup QB entering the season. He knows the scheme well, something that wouldn't be the case for a QB that the Cowboys pick up later this month. If they get Simms or somebody along those lines, the depth chart could change during the season. ... Don't expect Chad Pennington to become a Cowboy. Check out Calvin "Lucky" Watkins' post from earlier today for elaboration.

5:10 -- I'd be stunned if Isaiah Stanback didn't make this team. The Cowboys knew he was a QB-to-WR project when they drafted him. He has shown significant progress since getting healthy and has a dimension of elusiveness that no other young WR on this team possesses. And Jerry really likes Stanback.

5:13 -- I have not seen the Cowboys work out of a 4-3 look. The only time they're in a four-man front is in the nickel and dime packages, when DeMarcus Ware and Greg Ellis put their hand on the ground and Jay Ratliff and Chris Canty are the DTs. They do have a 3-3 look that they used on occasion in passing situations last season. That's the package that puts Ellis at DE and Ware and Anthony Spencer as OLBs. With Spencer's improvement, I would think we'd see more of that look this season.

5:17 -- Best LB in camp? DeMarcus Ware, the best LB in the league. ... Don't sense any frustration with the new coaches. It helps that, in the case of a couple, they're working with key players they've coached before. Hudson Houck was Flozell Adams' first pro position coach, and Dave Campo was the head coach when Roy Williams broke into the league.

5:21 -- Todd Lowber has looked like a long, lean, fast WR who is very raw. He'll probably get some late PT in preseason games. He's a practice-squad candidate, not a guy with a legitimate shot at making this roster. ... My take on Martellus Bennett is that he's a talented, immature rookie whose work ethic is spotty. The Cowboys knew that when they drafted them, as we saw on Hard Knocks last night when scouting chief Tom Ciskowski talked about Bennett in the war room. Bennett has the tools to be a very good player, but he needs to start following Jason Witten's example instead of paying lip service to doing so. The best way to judge Bennett this season is by whether his role increases as the season goes. If it does, that's a good sign that he's doing the right things behind the scenes.

5:25 -- There shouldn't be talk of getting rid of Brad Johnson. It isn't going to happen this season. Mat McBriar gets some work as a holder, but it's not like there's a competition for that job. ... RB Keon Lattimore has a chance to make the practice squad. He might be able to play some fullback, but he hasn't worked at that position at all during training camp. He's done some good things in Oxnard, although Hard Knocks sure didn't show evidence of that last night. ... The Cowboys are considered a Super Bowl contender but haven't won a playoff game in 12 years. They've faded badly down the stretch the last two seasons. If this team has trouble keeping a chip on its shoulder when it matter, something is seriously wrong.

5:31 -- Hard Knocks should be getting some good material out of this practice. While the Cowboys work on special teams, a bunch of starters are clowning around on the sideline.

5:34 -- Celebrity agent sighting: Drew Rosenhaus is roaming around behind the practice field. He tapped into Jerry's bank account a bunch this offseason, getting monster extensions for T.O. and Marion Barber and a contract for Zach Thomas.

5:37 -- Thanks for the support, sugge. Feel free to send your resume to my editors in downtown Dallas. ... Wade Phillips indicated that Brad Johnson will get some work Saturday. We should also get a good look at Richard Bartel. ... Can't say I've paid real close attention to special teams coaching emphasis.