Cowboys practice report: Day 8, Pt. 1

SAN ANTONIO -- The Cowboys were in pads in Saturday's morning session of a two-a-day practice, highlighted by the defense.

*First up is who didn't participate: Dez Bryant (ankle), Pat Watkins (knee), Akwasi Owusu-Ansah (shoulder), Sean Lee (strained quad), Keith Brooking (rest), Steve Octavien (hip), Stephen Hodge (knee), Sean Lissemore (groin), Jason Hatcher (elbow).

*A little more on the injuries. Hodge was wearing his helmet and jersey, something he hasn't done in a while. For that matter, all year. It seems Hodge, recovering from microfracture surgery, is getting closer to a return. We're told he won't practice in the dome, but when the team gets to Oxnard (first practice is scheduled for Aug. 14) he might get on the field. Owusu-Ansah also is getting closer to returning. He might come back next week. Hatcher was working on the blocking sled Saturday morning. He's wearing a brace on his elbow while he pushes off, so that means he's also getting closer to returning to practice.

*Tony Romo had a bad morning in practice. He was hurt by three drops, by Sam Hurd, Jason Witten and Roy Williams, but he made some poor throws. He had a high throw to Witten in the flat and overthrew Patrick Crayton in the end zone during a red zone drill.

*Even though Jason Williams is struggling in pass coverage, one thing he does well is rush the quarterback. Maybe the Cowboys should move him outside, I don't know, but he had an active morning session. Williams sacked Jon Kitna and Romo and jumped on a fumble by Matt Nichols. The sacks came with Williams on the blitz.

*Some nice cornerback play for Dave Campo's crew. Orlando Scandrick jumped the route to get one pick, Cletis Gordon grabbed another INT, this time in the end zone on a pass intended for Miles Austin in a red zone drill. Terence Newman was also active today. He dropped a sure interception on a pass intended for Kevin Ogletree. Newman provided tight coverage for most of the day.

*In his second practice, Martellus Bennett is looking stronger and stronger. He placed a stiff arm on on Williams as he ran down the sidelines after one catch and he knocked back Bradie James after catching a pass inside the 10. Bennett, who missed the first nine practices due to a sprained ankle, is running smoothly.

*One thing that was brought to our attention was how holder Mat McBriar is changing his technique on holding the ball. Last year, McBriar would reach out for the snap and then rush to place it down. Now, McBriar is working on opening up his body, to become a bigger target for long snapper L.P. Ladouceur, and having his right arm closer to his body. When that happens, McBriar catches the ball near his chest and is able to spot the ball quicker.

*Tackle Will Barker did a nice job blocking Jamar Wall on a screen pass. Barker took on Curtis Johnson long enough to give the quarterback time to find his target. Then after the pass was completed, Barker mashed his guy. John Phillips also did some fine blocking on Victor Butler on an inside run by Felix Jones. Another thing we noticed: When Leonard Davis pulls and is running across the line of scrimmage, watch out. That's a big man, and few people can take him on.