Can’t teach size or speed: That’s one of the basics of football coach-speak, and it underscores the difference between left tackles Doug Free and Alex Barron. Both are big — Free is listed at 6-foot-6 and 313 pounds, while Barron is listed at 6-8, 315 — and Free certainly has the benefit of having worked within the Cowboys’ system for three seasons. But Barron’s athleticism is remarkable. While working with the second-team offensive line, he showed remarkable quickness for such a big man, easily staying in front of oncoming defensive ends (including once when he kept his quarterback upright without lifting his arms from his sides, simply shielding his man with his massive frame and quick feet. A highly touted basketball player coming out of high school, Barron has terrific lateral quickness; watching him evoked images of a coach imploring a basketball player to move his feet on defense. That quickness doesn’t mean he’ll unseat Free from the starting lineup, of course, but his athleticism is reminiscent of a young Flozell Adams.
Mano a mano: The Dallas linemen engaged in the first one-on-one drills of the preseason, or at least the first on days when the media has had access. Some items of note:
• Center Andre Gurode was barely challenged. He faced speed rushers like Jay Ratliff and power rushers like Marcus Spears, and not only did he not get beaten for a “sack,” he barely even gave ground.
• Defensive end Igor Olshansky is known more for his power than his speed, but he was barely touched when racing past guard Kyle Kosier.
• When facing a team with an exceptionally fast right defensive end, the Cowboys might consider playing Barron instead of Free. Demarcus Ware — who, admittedly, makes a lot of blockers look bad — blazed untouched past Free, but Barron had both the size and quickness to keep Ware at bay.
• Defensive end Stephen Bowen broke out a nice swim move to get a step on guard Montrae Holland, but Holland made a nice recovery, dropping back and regaining his balance to stifle Bowen’s progress.
• The players aren’t wearing pads, and aren’t supposed to be hitting each other much, but the hit of the day definitely was turned in by Barron. Matched up against linebacker Curtis Johnson — who, at 6-3, 237 is five inches shorter and 78 pounds lighter than Barron — the Cowboys’ new acquisition basically forklifted Johnson, tossed him to the ground and then flopped down on top of him. It’s safe to say that had it been a real play in a real game, Johnson would have gone nowhere.
• The most even battle of the day came when two of the Cowboys’ strongest players — Olshansky (6-5, 315) and guard Pat McQuistan (6-6, 317) — squared off. The two slammed into each other and basically tried to drive each other straight backward. They destroyed a patch of turf on the Cowboys’ practice field, but neither moved much, so the win has to go to McQuistan on that one.
Faster than he looks: Maybe it’s because he’s from Penn State, which has produced some talented linebackers (like Shane Conlan and Jack Ham) who rely on brains and brawn over speed to become stars as professionals, but rookie Sean Lee is faster than he looks. When the team broke into 11-on-11 drills, he regularly slipped through blockers to get into the backfield, and looked smooth dropping into pass coverage. At one point, he looked like he was cruising in second gear while shadowing tight end Scott Sicko before leaping up to knock away the pass.
Returning at the end: Six players took turns fielding kickoffs at the end of the practice session: wide receivers Dez Bryant, Kevin Ogletree and Manuel Johnson, cornerbacks Bryan McCann and Cletis Gordon and running back Lonyae Miller. Only Ogletree and Miller dropped a kick.