Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley
SAN ANTONIO -- The second day of Cowboys training camp was much more physical. Running back Marion Barber punished anyone who tried to take him on and a rookie linebacker by the name of Victor Butler was all over the field. I'm prepared to touch on some of the position battles and other things that are going on inside the Alamodome, home to the poorest lighting in sports.
I've been as impressed with second-year running back Tashard Choice as anyone in camp. Running backs coach Skip Peete told me Wednesday that Choice was one of the most complete backs in the nation when he was at Georgia Tech, but there were questions about his speed. On Thursday, he used his acceleration to race away from linebackers and safeties. If I had to pick a player who's performed the best after three practices, I'd have to go with Choice. After talking to Peete for a while, I think Choice is a guy who could play three or four series per game -- especially if he gets hot.
Marion Barber appears to be lighter, in part, because he actually dropped five pounds. He's still administering punishment to linebackers, but he appears to have a little more wiggle than I recall at this point in camp. If you're wanting to get excited about something, let me suggest this team's three running backs. Felix Jones is showing that he could have a big impact in the passing game. He didn't catch the ball a lot at Arkansas, but he has pretty good hands from what I've gathered. For those of you who keep asking, I haven't seen any Wildcat formation plays to this point in camp.
I want to see more of Victor Butler, the fourth-round player out of Oregon State. He had 12 sacks his senior season at Oregon State, and he was all over the Cowboys' quarterbacks in Thursday's morning practice. He appears to be pretty quick off the edge and he actually showed some nice versatility in dropping back in coverage to make plays. In the morning practice, Butler was the guy constantly catching my eye.
After observing three practices, I'm convinced the Cowboys could be in big trouble if any of their offensive linemen go down with injury. Pat McQuistan looked completely helpless through much of Thursday's practices. And the worst part is that he got worse with each rep. He freaked out when DeMarcus Ware lined up over him and had a false start. Doug Free, a former third-round pick, looked a little better in the one-on-one drills I watched, but he's not ready to step in for left tackle Flozell Adams if something happens. Cory Procter's a guy that can get you through a couple of games at center or guard, but he needs to stay in that role. This team has done a very poor job of drafting and developing offensive linemen. They took Andre Gurode out of Colorado in the second round in 2002. They've been striking out ever since.
Isaiah Stanback isn't long for this team. Everyone thought he could make the transition from quarterback to wide receiver, but he's always banged up. And in the first three practices, he's had at least four drops. He dropped a perfect slant pass from Tony Romo on Thursday afternoon. He's made a couple of nice catches in traffic, but he's dropping the easy ones. At this pace, there's no way he makes the team.
I've sort of caught Jesse Holley fever. The wide receiver that made the roster via Michael Irvin's "Fourth and Long" TV show has caught just about everything thrown his way. He doesn't appear to be a burner, but he runs pretty precise routes for a guy who hasn't had game experience in quite a while. The fans love this guy. I guess Spike TV is big in San Antonio because they beg him for autographs.
Even though Martellus Bennett is a weird guy, he's certainly an immensely talented guy. He's a wide target and he's also fast enough to get downfield. With Witten and Bennett on the field, the Cowboys could be pretty dangerous in the passing game. Bennett's a guy who could catch 45 passes and five or six touchdowns. He's an Antonio Gates starter kit, and he appears to be taking things a lot more seriously in this training camp.
Wade Phillips means business. When a player jumps offsides or fumbles, they are immediately taken out of the lineup. When Patrick Crayton started upfield early on the first play of team drills, he was removed from the offense and Miles Austin came racing in. So far, I like the way Sam Hurd looks in camp. He's a wiry guy who does a nice job of contorting his body to make difficult catches. I like the way Austin's exploiting zone coverages. He'll find a soft spot and just sort of sit down. He's looking more and more like a veteran.
Back to the backup O-line topic, guard Montrae Holland was pulling on a running play and pretty much wiped out Jon Kitna in the morning practice. It took Holland a ridiculously long time to learn the offense last year,
and he just sort of rolls around in practice. I don't like watching offensive linemen who are always on the ground. "Stay up, stay up!" is the rallying cry that coaches have to use on Mr. Holland's Opus.
Are saggy basketball shorts the best look Wade Phillips can come up with? I like Phillips, but he's throwing down the same look as the Fab Four for Michigan. They're past his knees. Surely Bum has some Russell coaching shorts he could loan his son.
I saw former first-round pick Mike Jenkins do a nice job closing on the ball before making a deflection. He's getting to the ball, and the next step is to actually pick off some of those passes. Orlando Scandrick still looks more natural at corner to me.
In the morning practice Thursday, nose tackle Jay Ratliff jumped the snap and hit Rudy Carpenter before he could execute a handoff. Ratliff was constantly in the backfield. He just seems to have a ton of confidence heading into this season.
It's no surprise that DeMarcus Ware had three "sacks" Thursday, but defensive end Marcus Dixon out of Hampton, a long shot to make the team last season, had an outstanding morning. He had a sack and he pressured Jon Kitna into an early throw. Phillips said Dixon has gone from being a poorly conditioned player to one of the best. He's a guy to keep your eye on.
I sort of think the man who's wearing No. 81, Mike Jefferson, has a little something. He was graceful on a couple of sideline catches, and he does a nice job of going after the ball. He's sort of hung around for a little while now. I think he has an outside chance to make this roster -- especially if Stanback keeps dropping everything in sight. I also like Kevin Ogletree, who does a pretty nice job catching the ball across the middle.
I used to watch Brandon Williams play defensive end at Texas Tech. Now he's moved to outside linebacker. He's obviously got a knack for getting to the quarterback, although right tackle Marc Colombo completely stoned him one time when he tried to go with a bull-rush.
Tony Romo and Roy Williams have been doing a little work after practice. So far, they seem to be on the same page. In a red zone drill Thursday, Williams did a nice job of catching the ball away from his body and then exploding up the field. In the afternoon practice, he changed from No. 11 to No. 4 in honor of his old Texas Longhorns jersey. The Longhorn fans in the Alamodome seemed to appreciate the gesture.
I had a long visit with Cory Procter about the heavy metal band that he's in with Marc Colombo and Leonard Davis. It's called Free Reign, and the players have been signed to a recording contract. I'll have that interview for you tomorrow.
Davis worked a little bit at left tackle in some of the individual drills. Maybe that's part of the Cowboys' contingency plan in case Adams gets hurt. Just something to think about.
I'll see you back here tomorrow. I've been writing for 10 hours. It's time to stop. You guys are the best. Happy TKabbin Day!