My thoughts from Monday’s practice:
*Safety Alan Ball is playing like the real deal in this training camp.
The more I watch him, the more I am convinced that Ball can do the job asked of him this season. He has played with range, awareness and confidence.
During Monday’s practice, Ball was in a goal-line drill where he was in man coverage on John Phillips. Phillips tries to run underneath the formation along the line of scrimmage going right to left, while the offensive flow was moving right. It was a well-designed play by Jason Garrett and would have worked perfectly if Ball hadn’t reacted so quickly to the route to prevent the touchdown.
In speaking with Orlando Scandrick, Mike Jenkins and Terence Newman, they had nothing but praise for Ball in what it means to have a safety that can cover as much ground on the back end as Ball. There has been talk about Ball’s size or lack of it for the job, but Ball is not a blow-'em-up type of player, rather a drag-down guy or one that can hold on until help arrives.
Paired with the physical play of Gerald Sensabaugh, Alan Ball is playing like a nice fit at free safety.
*Spent the majority of the practice trying to get a handle on the play of nose tackle Josh Brent, who has missed most of camp with a broken hand.
The team was in full pads but was working on goal line and short yardage at three-quarter speed, so it was tough to get a real feel for him. It’s a shame that Brent is playing with one hand only. His left hand has only his thumb exposed, which makes it very difficult to control blockers.
At the nose, it’s critical that you use you hands to play off blocks. Brent doesn’t have this advantage.
In watching his play, he does play with some initial quickness and a burst. If he did struggle in one area, it was that his pad level was a little high and he allowed Travis Bright to work him out of the hole, but he later played with some better reps.
In my view, Junior Siavii appears to be the top backup right now for the nose tackle job, but with five preseason games and the fact that Jay Ratliff should play very little, Brent will get a serious look.
*Watching the goal-line and short-yardage work for the offense reminded me what an outstanding player Jason Witten really is. I know this isn’t breaking news, but he is such a difficult player to defend.
For a large man, Witten does an outstanding job of working in a small, tight area. He has a feel of how to free himself and move in and out of the traffic. Witten knows how to work the middle of the field, square up and present himself as a target to the quarterbacks. His hands are beyond dependable and if he does have to make a play in traffic, he can be successful because of the way he can position his body to shield a defender.
The mistake that Garrett and the offensive coaches made last season was asking Witten to help at times in the passing game as a blocker in the red zone. They need to get him in the route as much as possible, and in the talks I have had with coaches, this is more of the plan.
The coaches know what a special player they have in Witten, and look for him to be much more of a factor in the red zone this season.