SAN DIEGO, Calif. – Jason Garrett does not consider training camp over just because the Cowboys have left Oxnard, Calif., but that doesn’t mean we can’t offer up a quick review of the good and bad of what happened in the 14 practices there.
Best defensive player: DeMarcus Ware. I realize we’re only supposed to say how good Tyron Smith has looked in making the switch to left tackle, but Ware gave the second-year man fits, especially with his speed. The good news for Smith is that he will not see a speed rusher like Ware and he could be good preparation for Jason Pierre-Paul in Week 1. Ware has diversified his pass rush with several moves and counters. His work against the run was also better in camp than what it was last year.
Best offensive player: It’s hard not to say Dez Bryant because he makes the “wow” plays more than anybody else, but I’m going off the grid with DeMarco Murray. I entered camp somewhat skeptical of Murray because I saw what Julius Jones did in 2004 and never be able to repeat that again. Murray looks poised for a big year. He has shown speed and power and patience.
Best newcomer: Brandon Carr was signed to a $50.1 million deal as a free agent and sometimes expectations can doom. The last big-money free agent corner the Cowboys signed was Anthony Henry in 2005. He was solid but he did not have the start Carr has had. His physicality at the line of scrimmage is just different than what Cowboys fans have seen from their corners in recent years. He is a power corner if there is such a thing and for a guy who is not the fastest I don’t remember receivers running by him.
Best rookie: James Hanna is the last draft pick standing in terms of health. Every other pick has been hurt and missed time in the offseason or training camp. He has shown to be a willing blocker and dependable pass catcher. Tyrone Crawford, the third-round pick, however, is the choice. The Cowboys thought he would be able to contribute as a pass rushing specialist but there are some who believe he can develop into a starter this year.
Biggest disappointment: It’s too easy to go with the injuries, so we’ll be player specific here. Felix Jones. He started camp off the wrong way by flunking the conditioning and his play has only been OK so far in camp. He has had only a couple of those pull-away-from-you runs or receptions. This isn’t the way to start off a contract year, but Jones will get his chances in the regular season.
Biggest surprise: After the organized team activities and mini-camp I expected Barry Church to win the starting safety spot next to Gerald Sensabaugh, but I didn’t expect him to put a vice grip on it so quickly that the team cut veteran Brodney Pool in the first week. Church made plays from the first practice on and has been consistent. Let’s see if it carries over to when the games count, but the coaches are not worried about him at all.
Biggest question left to answer: It could be, ‘Will Jason Witten be healthy for the season opener?’ but we will go somewhere else: How can they fix the interior of the offense line? Phil Costa’s lower back strain threw the line into a tizzy because of injuries to Bill Nagy and Kevin Kowalski. Costa was doing OK in camp and better than people wanted to give him credit for, however, I don’t know that he’s guaranteed to be the opening day starter. I wonder if the Cowboys start to give Mackenzy Bernadeau some work at center in the next week or so with the idea of playing their “best five.”