The Cowboys opened their preseason slate with a game against John Fox’s Denver Broncos. The Broncos were coming off one of their worst seasons in franchise history with a record of 4-12 and questions about whether Kyle Orton or Tim Tebow would be the starter at quarterback. Here are some thoughts from studying the game:
*It doesn’t matter how good of a defensive coordinator Rob Ryan is if his front seven doesn’t get off blocks. It will not make one bit of difference what defense he calls if the Cowboys are physically dominated.
The Broncos were one of the worst rushing teams in the NFL last season but were able to push the Cowboys around with ease. The starters across the defensive line were Marcus Spears, Josh Brent and Igor Olshansky. Of the three down guys, Olshansky had the most trouble, then Brent.
The Broncos’ offensive linemen were able to get to Olshansky, who is known for his weight-room strength but played like he had none. It didn’t matter, end or nose, he couldn’t keep his pad level down and was moved easily two or three yards off the line of scrimmage. There was one play in which he was driven off the ball so far, Olshansky ended up in Sean Lee’s lap, causing Lee to not only have to fight off the blocker but his teammate as well.
Brent is a player that each day at practice makes a charge through the line that grabs your attention. In this game, he was playing a step late and behind blocks. He is most effective when he fires with his hands, controls the blocker, sheds and goes to the ball. I have seen Brent play much better at the point than he did against the Broncos, which was disappointing.
Spears was better than Olshansky and Brent when it came to playing with technique and power. His best play of the night when he was slanting down inside unblocked to make a tackle for loss.
If you were looking for some positive signs along the defensive line, Jason Hatcher and Sean Lissemore were it. Hatcher surprised me with his ability to not only get push with his rush but the way he was a force at the point. Hatcher did the best job of playing technique with his hands. Nice job of controlling blockers, two gapping and finding the ball.
In watching Hatcher, this was the way I believed that he would play when he was given the opportunity to start last preseason when Spears was injured. He didn’t perform then and was an afterthought to me. If Hatcher keeps his focus and intensity, he can fill that role that Stephen Bowen played in the nickel as well.
*There was plenty to like in the effort of rookie wide receiver Dwayne Harris against the Broncos. It wasn’t all perfect, but you did see the same flashes the Cowboys’ scouts did off the East Carolina game film.
Harris is one of those players who plays faster than his 40 time. If you noticed on his long touchdown catch and run, the defensive backs were beginning to catch him before he dove into the end zone.
There is no doubt that Harris can catch the football. There was plenty enough times where he caught the ball with defenders on his back or in traffic. On his touchdown catch that allowed the Cowboys to win the game on the two-point play to Martin Rucker, Harris did an outstanding job of being a football player by working himself open in the end zone. Stephen McGee didn’t have much time to deliver the ball because guard Papa Letuli missed his block at the snap. Harris was able to go up and get the ball at the highest point to make the catch.
If Harris has a weakness right now, it is as a route runner. In the games I studied in college, he was always playing the inside slot and most of his work was in the middle of the field. With the Cowboys, he will still play in the slot, but I did see him get some outside work. He was asked to run a slant and was still able to make the catch, but the route was more like a 3-yard “In” route than a slant.
There was also a point in the contest where McGee was trying to get him to come back for the football when it looked as if he needed to run the “hot” route instead of carrying his route up the field. To his credit, Harris did read the “hot” correct on his catch and run for the long touchdown.
From watching Arkin two weeks in camp, I have grown to appreciate even more the toughness and determination that he plays with.
Arkin was a left tackle in college at Missouri State. There is a side of me that one day believes that he will be a center for the Cowboys.
Against the Broncos, Arkin was better than I had seen him in practice. When it came to reach or scoop blocks working with Doug Free or Phil Costa or Bill Nagy, he managed to stay on his feet, push through for position and sustain his blocks. On the hen screen that the Cowboys popped for a big gainer to Felix Jones, Arkin was able to get outside and make the defender have to avoid him. On his pass sets, he showed a nice base, punch and finish.
If he did have a struggle, it was when he had to physically get push in the running game one on one. He just doesn’t have enough upper- or lower-body strength right now to hammer on someone. Arkin is much better when he can block on the move and make things happen by using position on the defender.
Really like the way he plays on his feet. When he is in the lineup, the Cowboys are a much more athletic line and movement wise he can do things that Montrae Holland can’t in space, but Holland is a more powerful push, shove blocker.
It was a good start for all three rookie linemen -- Smith, Arkin and Nagy -- along with offensive tackle Jermey Parnell.