Dez Bryant goes way up for the catch.
STILLWATER - This story from Friday's practice was all set to be on the competition and the effort being put out by the candidates at safety on defense. And we will get to those guys in the future, probably on Saturday. However, this It is an interesting story. However, I am one of those reporters that is slow to brag on even the most talented newcomer.
You could call it a writer's form of de-recruiting after all the hype and praise recruits get during their senior season of high school, throughout recruiting season, and signing day and after.
The Cowboys' second day of fall camp was progressing nicely and moving toward the finish when a newcomer made a play that would have to rank on my list of at least the top 50 plays I've ever seen in a practice. Freshman Dez Bryant, who has already made a fan club out of practice onlookers, was gliding down the sideline on a deep fade.
He was covered well when Zac Robinson threw a good pass that Bryant could read he was going to have to go up for. He jumped in what appeared to be too early a play on the ball and proceeded to hang in the air and appear to even go higher as the corner made his leap and take the ball. Looking around there were a lot of jaws dropped as Bryant came down with the ball, and after a few steps went out of bounds.
The leap and hang in the air was "Jordanesque" and Bryant jogged away as if he had just made a routine catch. For old-timers think Lynn Swann against the Cowboys in the Super Bowl but with more power as Bryant is 6-2, 210 pounds
Head coach Mike Gundy was not going to start drawing comparisons to current receiver Adarius Bowman, or one of his old targets Hart Lee Dykes, but it is safe to say a freshman receiver hasn't made a play like that in practice in a long time.
"He's made some nice plays, and there's not any reason denying when a guy makes a play he makes a play," said Gundy. "It seems like guys that have been good college football players have showed up pretty early. What he is going to do is push the guys in front of him. If I'm playing wide out then I'm going to practice hard and know what I'm doing because those young guys have an opportunity to get some playing time, and Dez has an opportunity to play early if he stays healthy and competes."
Bryant also made a couple of big plays in one-on-one drill against veteran corners like Jacob Lacey and Martel Van Zant. Tommy Devereaux continued to show he was ready to step up and stretch the field as he beat fellow speedster Terrance Anderson on a deep pass. Safeties Andre Sexton and Ricky Price showed up well in coverage drills, and freshmen wide receiver Hubert Anyiam and cornerback William Cole put on a nice battle as they seemed to always come up in line to go against each other. Both had victories in their one-on-0ne contests.
The Bryant play didn't hurt in Gundy's assessment of Friday's practice, but the head coach was happier overall with practice on Friday than day one when he felt the offense was feeling like they could go through the motions.
"It was better today in practice, better intensity," said Gundy. "Actually it was quite a bit warmer and the guys came out practiced well, moved around and made some plays. We chalk one up today; yesterday we wasted one.
"We caught the ball better, (Adarius) Bowman put the ball on the ground, but for the most part we caught the ball better and threw the ball OK. We did a good job of taking care of the ball. I think we only put the ball on the ground twice all day, drills and everything. The offense did a nice job, and the defense did a good job of breaking on the ball and made some plays out there and in special teams. Those guys are rallying around the system and playing with some confidence. They have a ways to go to improve but I can see they are playing better."
There is an urgency with the defense to force turnovers because defensive coordinator Tim Beckman has set a goal of four a practice or the defense runs gassers. Defensive big-play man and defensive end Nathan Peterson did his job as he picked off a short pass and ran it into the end zone (that has to be bonus points).
"The intensity is high in everything we do, whether you have pads on or if you're just stretching," said veteran safety Clint Coe. "We are focused to be going as hard as we can when we are on the field. One of the things coach Beckman does is when we are in a drill say, 'In this drill we need two turnovers.' We do everything we can to get those turnovers."
"We tell them each and every day there is going to be competition and you will see the depth chart change every day," said Beckman.
The defense also spent plenty of time in drills on pursuit and tackling even though it was a shorts and helmet affair. Shoulder pads come on at Saturday's 6 p.m. practice that Gundy will miss in order to attend former Cowboy and his teammate Thurman Thomas' induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Saturday night's practice will be the start of telling more about both the offensive line and the defensive front, but Gundy walked over to check on the defense Friday and liked what he saw with veterans like Nathan Peterson, Marque Fountain, Maurice Cummings, Jeray Chatham, Rodrick Johnson along with newcomers like Richetti Jones and Jamie Blatnick.
Concerned Cowboy fans can now rest a little easier as another player has been added to the roll of defensive tackles, a position with depth concerns. Shane Jarka, up to 270 pounds on his 6-4 frame, has been getting work playing inside and could be an answer to more depth at the position.
"I took some time during group run to go down there and watch them, and earlier when I talked about them and I said I thought they were getting better, I saw them doing a better job," said Gundy.
As mentioned, Saturday night it is kicked up a notch with the addition of shoulder pads. The practice begins at 6 p.m. and is open to the public which should draw a good crowd following Fan Appreciation Day which begins at 1 p.m.
Here is a list of the practices that are open to the public:
Saturday, Aug. 4, 6 p.m.
Sunday, Aug. 5, 4:45 p.m.
Monday, Aug. 6, 4:45 p.m.
Tuesday, Aug. 7, 10 a.m. and 5:45 p.m.