OXNARD, Calif. -- I was going to start off writing about the Dallas Cowboys' center position, but it's such a beautiful night here I just feel too good to start off with a negative. So we'll get to center, but I'm going to start with the defensive line.
I was critical of the Cowboys' draft in general, and my feelings on third-round pick Tyrone Crawford were that they'd picked a guy who couldn't help them this year -- a project defensive end for a 3-4 defense when they'd already traded their second-round pick and still had 2012 needs to address. But watching Crawford practice -- watching him in drills against the likes of Tyron Smith -- it's easy to see how the Cowboys could indeed find a role for him this year as a situational pass-rusher in nickel or dime packages. I asked Cowboys coach Jason Garrett about Crawford and this year, and this is what he told me:
"The vision we had for him in Year 1 was, 'Come in here and be a contributor as a pass-rush guy, and then we feel like you can be big enough to play the five-technique in our base defense.' We loved his relentless nature. Passionate kid still learning the game of football. His body's going to get bigger. He's going to get stronger. He has position traits to be a starter in the future, and right now he can have a role for us because we potentially like how he can rush the passer in a third-down situation."
Crawford is listed at 285 pounds, and most of the rest of the defensive linemen on the Cowboys' roster exceed 300. So they will need to see him bulk up before he can be a starter for them. But rushing the passer is a lot about speed, instinct and determination, and Crawford doesn't need to bulk up in order to deliver in that aspect of the game. So keep an eye out for how they deploy him on third downs. Could be that I was (hope you're sitting down!) wrong about that one.
Some other things I saw/heard/noticed/surmised during my second and final day at Cowboys training camp:
As great as the Cowboys' skill-position players are, they're going to have a hard time being productive if the center can't get the ball to the quarterback. And the Cowboys' centers... well, they struggle with that. Starter Phil Costa had trouble with it last year. The guys they thought would push Costa for the job this camp -- Mackenzy Bernadeau, Bill Nagy and Kevin Kowalski -- are all hurt. David Arkin, a guard who's never played center before, has been getting snaps there, but he was so bad Tuesday that they had to take him out of his spot as the second-team center, replace him with Harland Gunn (another guard they're trying out at center) and use Costa, the starter, as the third-team center. It was, to use a highly technical football term, not good. Bernadeau did do some work early in position drills and could start practicing later in the week, but Kowalski and Nagy don't look as though they'll factor into this mix in the preseason. Cowboys player personnel director Stephen Jones acknowledged after the practice that it was ugly, but he said he has high hopes for Bernadeau as a real option and that they weren't yet in the market for a free-agent center.
Bernadeau and Gunn stayed after practice to work on snaps on the side.
Fifth-round pick Danny Coale did a lot of work in individual wide receiver drills as well as punt return drills, though he was still held out of 11-on-11s as he recovers from his injury. He also could return to practice later in the week. Garrett didn't list him among the No. 3 wide receiver candidates earlier in the day, but it's possible he could work his way into the mix as the year goes along.
The guys Garrett did list were Kevin Ogletree, Andre Holmes and Dwayne Harris. He was making a point that Miles Austin's ability to play an inside slot position as well as play on the outside gives the Cowboys leeway when picking their No. 3, as they don't need it to be one or the other. He said they look at Ogletree and Harris as guys who can play both inside and outside while Holmes profiles more as an outside guy.
Austin, incidentally, is still out with a hamstring injury, but this is not being deemed serious because it's not as though Austin has a history of missing time with hamstring injuries. Wait. What? Oh.
After briefly leaving camp and coming back at the team's request, Cole Beasley continued to look good as a wide receiver and catching punts. Not sure if he can push himself into the mix, but he's playing very well.
DeMarco Murray looks fantastic, running with vision and power and showing no signs of the ankle injury that ended his 2011 season early.
And yeah, I could gush some more about how good Dez Bryant looks, but I feel like I've done enough of that. Just... I mean... if you don't want to draft him for your fantasy team, I'll be happy to scoop him up one pick later, is all I'm saying.
I head home to New Jersey on Wednesday, but Cowboys Camp Confidential is scheduled to run Friday and I have a bunch more stuff from Cowboys camp to share with you over the coming days and probably into next week. If the posts are a little light tomorrow, you'll know my plane doesn't have WiFi.