IRVING, Texas -- The Dallas Cowboys will hold their first full practice in Texas tonight at AT&T Stadium, but before we get there let’s offer up a review of the team’s month-long stay in Oxnard, California.
Away we go:
Best player, offense: Cole Beasley
With Dez Bryant unable to practice half the time because of a hamstring strain, Beasley was the best player on offense once you got past Tony Romo and Jason Witten. Beasley was not stopped the entire time in camp. He turned around any defender who was in front of him, including those from the St. Louis Rams.
Best player, defense: DeMarcus Lawrence
There isn't a flashy play that makes Lawrence worthy of this pick. But it's how he approached every day. He was solid. He played tough against the run. He brought some pass rush. He showed the move to left defensive end won't be an issue.
Best rookie, offense: Lucky Whitehead
At the start of camp, I wondered if this would have been La'el Collins but the left guard competition never materialized. Whitehead had one shining moment in two-minute work with the regulars after Dez Bryant went out with a hamstring injury, catching a Romo pass at the sideline and earning praise from Scott Linehan.
Best rookie, defense: Randy Gregory
Gregory was a candidate for best defensive player of training camp -- he was that good. You never want to overstate what you see from a rookie in camp, but Gregory looks special. He plays fast. He plays strong. But can he carry it over to the regular season?
Most improved, offense: A.J. Jenkins
Early in camp, I wondered why he wasn't the first player let go. He didn't make any plays. He didn't get open. He didn't know where to go. But something clicked and he looked like a player. Enough to make the roster? Maybe not, but he showed speed and ability.
Most improved, defense: Keith Smith
He was brought in the first few days of camp because of injuries at lineback mostly because he knew the defense and special teams, but he has gone from being a camp body to someone with a chance to make the roster.
Funniest moment: Mike Pope’s ice bucket challenge
The Cowboys’ tight ends coach has a plethora of drills designed to make his guys concentrate for the tough catches they will see in games. This one took the cake. Pope had his tight ends dip their head into a bucket full of ice water for a five-second count and with the water in their eyes they had to make a catch from 5 yards away.
Worst moment: Orlando Scandrick injury
The Cowboys lost their best cornerback to a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee when Scandrick collided with Whitehead. While they suffered a number of injuries during camp, this was the most severe to one of their core players. Almost immediately, Scandrick knew it was bad, as did Barry Church, who called for the athletic trainers. Safety J.J. Wilcox had to be coaxed back into drills with Scandrick on the ground.
Best scene: Denzel Washington makes an appearance
I could have gone with the big number of Rams fans in the stands for two practices as a sign that they want their team back in St. Louis. With midweek practices, I wasn’t expecting that big of a crowd. But I’m going with Denzel Washington and his son J.D. attending a practice. Just about everybody went up to shake Denzel’s hand. Jason Garrett had him speak to the team briefly. To me, however, the best part of the story was that Tyler Clutts was the connection. He blocked for J.D. Washington when they were teammates with the Sacramento Mountain Lions.
Wished we had seen more, offense: Darren McFadden, Dez Bryant
Hamstring injuries kept them out of practices but both should be fine for the regular-season opener. Bryant was electric when he did practice. He should have a monster year. With a good showing vs. the Minnesota Vikings, you get a sense of what McFadden can do, but there will always be a lingering wonder about his health.
Wished we had seen more, defense: Greg Hardy
This is being judged from the first day of camp to the last, so take it for what it’s worth, but I wanted more “wow” from Hardy. He brought it the final few days in Oxnard, but I also saw him blocked by Darrion Weems and R.J. Dill. If you don’t like this pick, then not seeing Rolando McClain practice at all was a little disappointing too.