Insider OTA Observations & Notes

Insider OTA Observations & Notes

IRVING, Tex. - The Cowboys' third round of OTAs opened Tuesday, and the bombshell for which fans and media alike had been waiting finally went off when owner Jerry Jones hinted offensive plays in 2013 will be called by Bill Callahan, not Jason Garrett.

Jones said the decision was made weeks ago, but didn't want to make the announcement … but when pressed, he said that the reporters in attendance could see that Callahan is "very involved" in the play calling at OTAs. As soon as he said that, reporters flocked to Callahan and told him that Jones had just said Callahan would call plays. It's not quite the way Jones said it, but when presented with that scenario, Callahan confirmed the non-announcement, or whatever it should be called.

• The list of players who sat out of Tuesday's practice with injuries that ranged from mild to serious included QB Tony Romo, WR Miles Austin, DT Jay Ratliff, DE Jason Hatcher, RB Joseph Randle, S Will Allen, CB Malik James, DE DeMarcus Ware, S Danny McCray and OT Jermey Parnell.

• One encouraging sight: the return of RB DeMarco Murray to the practice field. Not only did he run with good acceleration, but he also showed he can stop and change direction quickly. No, he's not in mid-season form, but he clearly is on the mend.

• In goal-line drills, rookie WR Terrance Williams got around CB Morris Claiborne and beat him to the back corner of the end zone, where he caught a pass from QB Kyle Orton. One of the officials who was working all "live" drills at practice ruled the play incomplete, pointing out that Williams had failed to get both feet down inbounds (of course, receivers only have to get one foot in bounds in college). Williams debated the call, and Claiborne acted nonchalant about it, but it was encouraging to see Williams beat a capable cover corner like Claiborne on a precise route like that. He got free for several other passes in close quarters, although none against a starter like Claiborne.

• When the team's rookies gathered for the first time a few weeks ago, there was considerable speculation about whether C Travis Frederick, the team's first-round draft pick out of Wisconsin, would take over immediately as a starter. Not only has he been working with the first-team offensive line throughout the rookie mini-camp and in each of the three rounds of OTAs, but he also is beginning to establish himself as a leader of the group. When players moved from "team" (11-on-11) drills to position drills, it was Frederick leading the charge, imploring his teammates to hustle to their next station as much as he was; when the team ran team drills, he was shouting "Huddle! Huddle! Huddle!" and emphatically barking out calls about the defense. Yes, that is part of the job of any center, but Frederick's personality seems to allow him to lead by example.

WR Cole Beasley knows he has to prove himself to make the team, and probably will have to do so in every season of his career, no matter how long it lasts. He'll never be as big as WR Dez Bryant or as fast as WR Miles Austin. What he is, however, is theultimate student of the game and the best route runner on the team — bar none. In one stretch of 11-on-11 drills, Beasley ran four consecutive plays with the first-team offense, covered three times by rookie CB Devin Smith and once by FSMatt Johnson, and unveiled an array of fakes and quick cuts so effective that he could have called a fair catch when fielding passes. He was so wide open each time it looked unfair, as if the defenders were shackled around the ankles or something.

• Two candidates for the catch of the day. One one play in team drills, WR Dez Bryant headed toward the back right corner of the end zone, only to realize the ball was slightly underthrown. Without hesitation, Bryant elevated and reached over the head of CB Brandon Carr, who appeared ready to make an easy interception, snatching the ball and lifting it away from Carr. Shortly thereafter, in the same drill, WR Dwayne Harris ran a short crossing route in front of CB Sterling Moore. When he realized the ball was thrown low and behind him, Harris whirled around and dove, extending his left arm and making a beautiful one-headed catch on the goal line.

• Slight shuffle in the offensive lines during red zone drills: the first team had LT Tyron Smith, LG Ronald Leary, C Travis Frederick, RG David Arkin and RT Doug Free. With Parnell on the outside looking in, the second-team line featured LT Edawn Coughman, LGRay Dominguez, C Phil Costa, Kevin Kowalski and RT Darrion Weems.

• New defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin has talked repeatedly about how he wants versatile athletes who can fill a number of roles, including dropping into pass coverage. It wasn't much of a surprise when LB Bruce Carter was the only defender who didn't bite when QB Kyle Orton faked a handoff and threw a play-action pass back across the field, only to watch Carter fly across the field to knock it down. But in red zone drills, ILB Caleb McSurdy did the same thing, racing across the back of the end zone to knock away a pass thrown by QB Nick Stephens toward TE Gavin Escobar. McSurdy is a sturdy run stuffer, but more than a few observers turned to each other after the play with a "did he really just make that play?" look on their faces.

• He faces an uphill battle to make the roster, because of limited available roster spots, but rookie WR Anthony Amos, an undrafted free agent out of Middle Tennessee State, put on a show Tuesday, making several leaping, twisting grabs of passes thrown behind him or over his head. With WRs Miles Austin, Dez Bryant and probably Terrance Williams locks to make the team, and Cole Beasley and Dwayne Harris the odds-on favorites to claim two more spots, calling Amos anything other than the longest of longshots would be a disservice to everyone involved, but he sure tried to make the most of his chances Tuesday.

• Sometimes the hits that don't get made are as important as those that do. One veteran who understands the concept is LB Ernie Sims. When RB Lance Dunbar drifted out into the flat for a short pass, Sims had him lined up and could have knocked him into orbit. Sims got there in a hurry and made the "tackle" (there is contact, but without full pads, the players don't hit as hard as they will in training camp), but pulled up at the last second, so the contact was minimal and Dunbar was able to get back up.

• After practice, new defensive line coach Rod Marinelli joined the chorus of voices from around the league that expressed sadness over the death of former star DE Deacon Jones. Marinelli called Jones "arguably the best ever" at his position, and said what he admired the most about Jones was the passion and intensity with which he played the game.

Marinelli also expressed his admiration for his boss, defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin, but said he is not surprised that Kiffin has so much energy at the age of 73. Marinelli called Kiffin "amazing" and said Kiffin's success has been due in large part to his attention to detail. "We talk about passion for the game," Marinelli said. "His is off the charts. He has developed so many coaches, guys who have become coordinators and head coaches, because he pays such attention to every detail. His enthusiasm for the game and for making sure it's played the right way is incredible, and that rubs off on people.

• With DE DeMarcus Ware among those who watched while getting healthy, LB-turned-DE Kyle Wilber caught Marinelli's eye with his performance in extended snaps at his new position. Marinelli said Wilber is "excited about" his new position, although he never got a vote on the move. "I never asked him," Marinelli said, laughing. "I said, ‘put your hand in the dirt, and let's go."

Marinelli said he is pleased with the work all of the defensive linemen are doing as they adjust to the new coaches and to the team's new 4-3 defense Kiffin is installing. "The guys are all putting in some solid work," Marinelli said. "Now it's coming down to when they get the pads on. They seem to have good movement and good talent. Everybody wants to play football, and we're trying to help them do the things they're suited for."

LB Justin Durant, who signed over the offseason as a free agent, has been impressed with the talent in the linebacker crew he is joining with the Cowboys. "Top-notch," he said when asked how the Dallas linebackers stack up with some of the other groups with which he has played. "I've been around some athletic guys and played with some great players, and these guys here have the potential to be better than any of them."

• The Cowboys seem to be collecting tight ends. Team officials feel starting TE Jason Witten is the NFL's best at his position, and 2012 draftee James Hanna and rookie Gavin Escobar are exceptional athletic pass catchers who have coaches and teammates raving. But that didn't stop the Cowboys from adding free agent Dante Rosario, a seventh-year veteran who has played with the Carolina Panthers, Denver Broncos and San Diego Chargers.

Rosario admitted he was caught off guard a little when the Cowboys called, considering the team's wealth of talent at the position, but said the opportunity is one that could allow him to help the team and himself.

"(Witten) is one of the best — if not the best — tight end in the league, so I'm lucky to have the chance to learn from him," Rosario said. "I think I have the experience to do whatever they ask me to do, whether it's catch the ball, block, being able to adapt … I can play in the slot, out of the backfield (or) out wide. The fact that they drafted Escobar in the second round shows that they're committed to the position."

• One player who could get squeezed by Rosario is Lawrence Vickers, the only pure fullback on the roster. Vickers has yet to practice with the team this year because of a back injury, and if the assorted tight ends show that they can provide ample blocking out of the backfield in different formations, Vickers could get caught in a numbers crunch. In some drills, LB Caleb McSurdy even took some snaps as a lead-blocking fullback.

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