- The Eagles drew just under 15,000 fans for the first of three open training camp practices this summer. It was the first chance for fans to see the changes to Lincoln Financial Field. It was also Military Appreciation Day, and dozens of active service people were in attendance. “It’s awesome, man,” cornerback Cary Williams said. “You’ve got some people who can’t afford to come to a regular game. This is their opportunity to sit in these green seats and enjoy what we put out every day.”
- The Eagles wore full pads for the first time, but there wasn’t significantly more hitting than there was in the first two days. Coach Chip Kelly has made it clear he sees practices as teaching and training opportunities and really puts a lot of weight on preseason games for evaluating player performance.
- Several players did stand out. None of the four quarterbacks has thrown a single interception during the first three days of practice. LeSean McCoy looked impressive running the ball as well as catching it. He made it very tough on linebackers, especially Mychal Kendricks, who were called upon to cover him. Rookie wide receiver Jordan Matthews got open in the middle of the field for two consecutive catches from backup quarterback Mark Sanchez.
- The 6-foot-3, 212-pound Matthews plays primarily in the slot. Kelly likes the kind of matchup issues that can create. “Obviously, a lot of the corners who play slot corner in this league are a little smaller,” Kelly said. “You can create some mismatches from that standpoint. If you’re going to leave a linebacker in the game, obviously there’s some athletic mismatches we can exploit there. Also, in the run game, our slot receivers have to block. That’s one thing Jason Avant was outstanding at last year.”
- Unlike his predecessor, Andy Reid, who opened every news conference with a list of injured players, Kelly seldom brings up injuries. He isn’t especially forthcoming when asked, either. His approach is basically that he’s coaching the players who are healthy and the trainers are working with those who aren’t. Four Eagles were limited or out of Monday’s practice: nose tackle Bennie Logan (hamstring), wide receiver Riley Cooper, running back Chris Polk and center Julian Vandervelde. None of the injuries appeared serious. The Eagles are off on Wednesday.
- Another short practice for the Giants, who cut it off after about an hour and 15 minutes and headed inside for another recovery stretch. The longer training camp this year gives them a chance to build in rest breaks as dictated by the GPS technology the players are wearing during practice, and they're taking advantage of it. The hamstring injuries to wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. and Xavier Grimble are the only injuries that are holding people out of practices so far, and Beckham's was apparently a holdover from the spring. So I guess you could say it's working.
- One interesting thing I saw in the 11-on-11 period: There was a play on which wide receiver Marcus Harris was lined up out wide to the right, and just before the snap he motioned a few steps to his left into a three-man "bunch" formation with fellow wide receivers Julian Talley and Jerrel Jernigan. Bunch formations are one possible technique the Giants could use to help offset the fact that their wide receiver group is made up of relative small players. Instead of asking a small wideout to beat a defender off the line, you bunch them up in order to try and create confusion at the snap in the hope that one or more of them gets loose.
- For the second day in a row, Ryan Nassib completed a downfield seam throw to a tight end. Monday it was Larry Donnell, who had to go high in the air to catch the ball and then somersaulted foward in the air as he fell to the ground with it. Earlier in the practice, Daniel Fells caught a touchdown pass from Eli Manning. It was Kellen Davis who caught the seam pass from Nassib on Sunday. The tight ends continue to rotate in and out of the practice reps as the coaches hope one or two of them start to distinguish themselves. It has not yet happened.
- It was the second straight day in full pads, and there were some incidents. Fullback Henry Hynoski got into a very brief post-play scuffle with a defensive player. We couldn't see exactly who it was -- could have been Johnathan Hankins or Jameel McClain. But Hynoski's helmet went flying off, and the crowd got a kick out of it. Right at the end of practice, defensive tackle Jay Bromley made a big hit and full tackle on running back Kendall Gaskins, drawing a scolding from coach Tom Coughlin, who doesn't want his players tackling each other to the ground in practice.
- The Giants mixed-and-matched some interesting defensive line looks, moving ends Jason Pierre-Paul and Mathias Kiwanuka inside on a couple of plays. And their NASCAR showed up, with pass-rushers Pierre-Paul, Kiwanuka, Robert Ayers and Damontre Moore all on the field at the same time.
- The Redskins needed to be a more physical team overall after finishing last in three of the last four years. They need a mindset and an identity, something I don’t think they always had under Mike Shanahan. I’ve seen it under other coaches: Marty Schottenheimer and Joe Gibbs’ teams in particular. They were tough and hard-nosed. To play that way you need players who fit that description. One way to weed them out is to have more physical practices, something the Redskins are doing – especially Monday. Coach Jay Gruden wants a tough-minded team and days like this helps mold that identity.
- One of the funny sights occurred because of the physical nature of practice. But it involved two players whose dads went at it back in the day (competing, not fighting): receiver Jerry Rice, Jr. and corner Chase Minnifield. Easy to tell who is Rice’s dad; Minnifield’s father, Frank, played for the Cleveland Browns and against Rice on occasion. Anyway, Rice and Minnifield had a brief scuffle after one play. It was noteworthy because of their last names. Receiver Andre Roberts had a bigger near-fight with corner Peyton Thompson after they engaged on a run play. Roberts’ helmet came off and, yes, he threw a punch. But they were quickly separated. Receiver DeSean Jackson and quarterback Robert Griffin III went and talked to Thompson for a couple seconds afterward.
- Receiver Pierre Garcon had soreness in his hamstring and didn’t participate in most of practice. It did not sound serious and he stayed on the field with his pads on and walked fine to the locker room after practice. Undrafted free-agent corner Courtney Bridget injured his right shoulder and Gruden said he will undergo an MRI.
- The Redskins will switch rookie Morgan Moses to the right side next week after having him work on the left side. He initially practiced at right tackle in the spring, but was not as comfortable as he was on the left side (he played both spots in college). Moses has to learn how to play lower and use better angles and move his feet. But how he handles the backup role could determine Tom Compton’s fate. He’s been working as the primary backup at right tackle in camp. But if Moses shows he can handle life as the main backup, then Compton would have a harder time making the roster (teams don’t always keep four tackles).
- Have I told you lately how much I enjoy watching outside linebackers coach Brian Baker conduct a drill session? He focuses hard on the details and it doesn’t matter if you’re a starter or not; if you mess up you do it again. I’ve seen him praise the no-names and make guys such as Ryan Kerrigan and Trent Murphy do a second rep because the first wasn’t good enough. He chastised both players Monday, first having Murphy do a second rep after not getting low enough after shedding the blocker. He had Kerrigan go a second time on a drill in which Baker wanted him to be “low and tight.” The goal was to turn the corner against one dummy, then touch the bottom of another dummy, simulating a pass-rush angle. Kerrigan did it right the next time.
The problem is that, to this point, no one from the group that includes Adrien Robinson, Larry Donnell, Daniel Fells, Kellen Davis and Xavier Grimble has established himself as the all-around guy.
"I think right now, they've all got a shot at doing it," Gilbride said. "They're all very good in certain areas right now and not as efficient or as good in other areas. In order to become that all-around tight end, they need to continue to develop."
Gilbride wouldn't handicap the competition, but based on what we've seen so far at practice, Fells looks like the most capable pass-catcher. Donnell made an excellent leaping catch on a seam throw from Ryan Nassib in practice Monday, a short time after Fells caught a touchdown pass from Eli Manning. Davis made a great catch on a seam-route throw from Nassib on Sunday. Robinson has always been a capable run-blocker and continues to show that. The Giants have tried their best to rotate all of the tight end candidates in with the first-team offense to give them all a chance to show what they can do. But it's too early for anyone to have separated himself.
"Every time they get on the field, they know they're being evaluated with everything that they do," Gilbride said. "When guys start to emerge, we'll know it."
So far in camp, we have seen tight ends lined up all over the formation -- in the slot, in tight, out wide... even in the backfield in a fullback or H-back role. Gilbride said that's not a case of experimentation; it's an integral part of the offense and something their tight ends will have to do. The new running game includes more zone and stretch concepts that will require the tight ends to be nimble and flexible as blockers. There is a lot to the job.
"I would describe it as 'Jack of all trades,'" Gilbride said. "Having them be in the backfield and playing a lot of that fullback role, splitting them out as the No. 1 receiver, the No. 2. An in-line tight end as far as the blocking and the pass receiving. It's a jack of all trades and they have to master them all. It's an exciting, fun position in this offense, but we need to continue to develop in order to be ready to help our team win football games."
The Giants could keep as many as four tight ends on their roster, especially if they wrap up the preseason with the same issue they have now -- guys who have disparate strengths and weaknesses and have to be mixed and matched in and out of the lineup depending on circumstances. But Gilbride made it clear that's not the ideal situation.
"I think you can get it done with the specialist-type thing, but that's not really what we're looking for," he said. "What we're really looking for is to develop a number of overall tight ends who can do it all."
The search continues.
The key for Griffin will be reading the blitz and being decisive with his throw. The Redskins’ defense has helped him by giving him multiple looks and using a variety of blitzes.
Another time, Jackson and Griffin hooked up on a route in which the quarterback pumped the ball on an outside route and then came back inside to Jackson. That pump bought Jackson enough time to separate in the slot -- he was a forgotten man because of the pump -- and also provided him room to run afterward.
Later, Griffin and Jackson connected again at the goal line. Jackson was covered by Richard Crawford, so Griffin was patient, let Jackson win the route and made the throw.
But Jackson might have been drilled on another pass these two combined on, a deep play-action throw. Griffin lofted a pass over the top of corner DeAngelo Hall to Jackson -- a good throw. Safety Ryan Clark was racing over and, had it been a game, it would have been interesting to see the potential collision. Jackson did spot him as soon as he caught the ball and avoided him. But Clark also pulled off.
For the most part, Griffin was sharp Monday. He did take off running once, when the defense was in man and the middle of the field opened. Griffin was unable to connect on his fade routes. Even when we’ve see him throw this pass in the past he was inconsistent. Monday, he threw one to rookie Ryan Grant, a guy he hasn’t thrown a whole lot with.
But after the first five days of camp, Griffin has ended on an upswing. Really, he’s had one bad day (during the first day rain). Since then, he’s been solid with an occasional tough throw. Last summer he was much more erratic.
"I felt the same way in college. You devote everything to the signing day. Well, how many guys from the signing day are actually going to contribute? You may have one or two rookies who have an impact on your team. The rest of them, it's just having them develop. The fact that people would watch the combine -- there's times at the combine where I fall asleep. They're running 40-yard dashes."
Kelly is more concerned with how all of this affects the players coming into the league.
"You guys are in the newspaper business," Kelly said. "If someone is a rookie coming into the newspaper thing, I don't think you're all applauding and saying, 'Oh, my God, the savior is here! Our paper is saved because we just signed a kid out of Northwestern that has really good prose.' In football, it seems to be the biggest thing in the world. And if a guy isn't an all-pro in his first year, but he was drafted in the first five picks, then he's a bust. And I don't think that's the case."
That perspective is interesting when you watch how Kelly approaches his rookies. Last year, first-round pick Lane Johnson was a starter from the very beginning. But defensive tackle Bennie Logan was eased into the starting lineup, eventually replacing veteran Isaac Sopoaga. Tight end Zach Ertz and safety Earl Wolff were brought along slowly.
This year? Same thing. First-round pick Marcus Smith opened camp as the third-team left outside linebacker. Smith runs with the second team at times, but there is clearly no pressure from Kelly's staff on the rookie. Second-round pick Jordan Matthews, who made two flashy catches Monday, is still behind veteran slot receiver Brad Smith on the depth chart.
It doesn't matter to Kelly what the expectations from the outside are. And once players are here, they are judged on merit, not on where they were drafted.
New offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo, who's never been a coordinator or a game-day playcaller before, will coach from the sidelines. Manning said he's been practicing with the radio in his helmet to get used to hearing McAdoo's voice calling the plays.
The Hall of Fame Game means the Giants will get five preseason games this year instead of the usual four. Manning usually sits out the final game of the preseason and likely will again this year. So if he wanted to get in his usual three, he could skip Sunday's. Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo didn't play in the Hall of Fame Game last year, but Romo was coming off of back surgery and the Cowboys weren't installing a completely new offense. In this case, Manning will draw some benefit from playing an extra game.
"There are five games, and you approach it in different ways when you have five instead of four," Coughlin said. "But we are going to benefit from this, from more opportunities in the new offense."
Don't expect to see the first team at full strength Sunday night. First-round wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. still hasn't practiced in a week due to a hamstring injury, and it would be a huge surprise to see him on the field. Wide receiver Mario Manningham continues to be limited by a sore knee. And while left tackle Will Beatty has been taking the bulk of the snaps at left tackle in practice, the Giants may not be ready to expose him to game conditions just yet as he continues to recover from the broken leg he suffered in the 2013 season finale.
It wasn't just the reps against Ware that helped prepare Smith to fulfill his Pro Bowl potential. Ware often worked with Smith after practices, offering tips on footwork and hand placement from an edge rusher’s perspective.
The Cowboys would love to see Smith form a similar competitive mentor relationship with rookie pass-rusher DeMarcus Lawrence, the second-round pick drafted to replace Ware.
"One of the most underutilized resources in football are offensive guys talking to defensive guys and defensive guys talking to offensive guys," head coach Jason Garrett said. "That's with coaches and that's with players. I think it's important to understand the other person's mindset, what they're trying to get accomplished, both with scheme and technique. So any kind of communication that happens between those guys I think is really, really good, particularly with the younger players."
Smith typically isn't a man of many words, but he said, "I'll try my best to teach the new guy."
The Smith-Lawrence competition has gotten off to a slow start. One of the most highly anticipated one-on-one matchups in camp has been seen a grand total of once in the first two full-pads practices.
Lawrence is working with the second-team defense now, so veteran defensive end Jeremy Mincey is the one matched up with Smith on a regular basis. Lawrence has been dominating backup left tackle Darrion Weems, but he got stonewalled on his one pass-rush rep against Smith.
Lawrence, who has set a goal of double-digit sacks as a rookie, eagerly anticipates more action against arguably the NFL's best left tackle.
"I look forward to it because he ain't doing nothing but getting me better," Lawrence said. "If I go against the best, then I know what to expect."
Garrett shot down a theory that the Cowboys are trying to build Lawrence's confidence by letting him compete against lesser tackles. It sounds as if Lawrence will see plenty of Smith.
"It's not like we're saying, 'OK, you're in eighth grade and you're going to go against this guy who is playing college football,'" Garrett said. "These are the kinds of guys he's going to face in this league and he has to understand the approach he needs to take. He's going to have some success at times and he's going to have some difficulties at times, but he's just got to keep going, keep playing."
There's no better way for a young player to learn than by facing elite competition in practice. Smith's success serves as proof.
Giants coach Tom Coughlin said after Monday's practice that Beckham spent the day with team trainers and was being sent to New York for tests on his injured hamstring.
It's unclear what this means for the top pick's prognosis, but it's not a step in the right direction. It's possible an MRI and/or other tests could help the Giants determine the severity of Beckham's hamstring strain, which would help them figure out how to proceed with treatment or offer them a timetable on when they can expect him back. In the meantime, he continues to miss valuable practice time as the Giants install their offense.
The Giants drafted Beckham with the 12th pick in May's draft because they believed he offered them a significant speed threat on the outside from the split end position. But he missed a number of spring practices and minicamp due to a hamstring injury, and he pulled the muscle again in the first practice of training camp last Tuesday. He has not practiced since, and Coughlin's frustration over the injury has been evident.
"It's more than that," Coughlin said after Sunday's practice. "We're trying to put a team together. We saw too much of that in the spring."
But Coughlin went on to say that, of course, the team wasn't going to put Beckham on the field until it was sure he was no longer at risk of further injury. The Giants' first preseason game is Sunday against the Buffalo Bills in Canton, Ohio. Their regular season opens in exactly six weeks, with a "Monday Night Football" game against the Lions in Detroit.
"The personality of this group will show itself when we play games in the preseason and as we play games on Sunday," Davis said the other day.
"I'm glad, to be honest with you," cornerback Cary Williams said. "When you come out here to camp, there's no friends. You try to look out for your brother. You're fighting for jobs, you're fighting for opportunities. When those situations arise, especially defenders, we're going to let them know we're not having that. We're going to be the most physical defense we possibly can."
Last summer, Williams got into a scuffle with one of the New England Patriots during a joint practice. Both players were held out for the rest of the practice, as per an agreement between Chip Kelly and Patriots coach Bill Belichick.
Kelly hasn't been that strict when it's a bout between two of his own players.
"Those things happen," Kelly said. "Their emotions got the better part of them. It's no different than little kids sometimes don't get along and throw Tonka trucks at each other."
While the coach understands the dynamic and tolerates the occasional melee, Williams is downright in favor of it.
"If it was up to me," Williams said, "I think that's normal. I don't think you're supposed to go through camp with no fights, in my opinion. Those are supposed to happen. Guys get frustrated. You're out here these long hours, guys get frustrated. You're fighting to survive another down. Sometimes guys get the best of you and you may be frustrated. That's a part of camp, man."
Aside from the scuffle with the Patriots, Williams got into a camp fight last summer with wide receiver Riley Cooper. That one drew even more attention because it occurred a couple weeks after the appearance of an Internet video of Cooper using a racial slur during a concert.
So it was somewhat surprising that two fights have broken out and Williams was not involved.
"Mine is coming," he said. "It's all in good fun. You're going to have those things. It's practice. Maclin wasn't going to back down, either. What's done out here stays out here. We're family, at the end of the day. You're not swinging to hurt the guy. They've got on helmets. It's more of a faking situation. If you break your hand in a fight, you're a complete idiot."
Defensive tackle Henry Melton exploded past the rookie right guard in the one-on-one pass-rush drill. In the blink of an eye, Melton got Martin to lean a little to his right, changed directions and ripped through with his hands to win the rep about as convincingly as possible.
"I just had to let him know that I'm here and it's going to be a long training camp," Melton said.
Martin has made it clear that he's ready for it. That first rep is the only time Martin has looked like a rookie during his first two days wearing pads with the Dallas Cowboys.
The Cowboys were confident that Martin, who set the Notre Dame record for games started with 52, could make an immediate impact when they drafted him with the 16th overall pick. He has done nothing to dispel that notion during his first couple of full-contact practices.
"I know there's a lot of expectations," Martin said. "Like I said in the past, I'm just trying to be consistent and show these guys that I can show up every day."
A couple of defensive assistant coaches offered high praise for Martin, saying he carries himself like a veteran on the practice field. He's held his own against Melton, a 2012 Pro Bowler, and has often dominated other defensive tackles.
"He's good," Melton said. "I purposely line myself up with him. He's coming on strong. If I'm working with him, he's making me better and I'm making him better. There's no one else better to work with."
@RichCimini: I was surprised by the Jason Babin signing, but I don't think that's what you're looking for. Honestly, Oday Aboushi has been a surprise. In minicamp, I thought it was just the Rex Ryan hype machine, pumping him up, but Aboushi has been turning heads in camp. His athleticism is intriguing because he can move and block on the run, allowing them to run more outside zone plays. A few years ago, the Jets were a great outside-zone running team. Willie Colon is a more powerful, straight-up blocker than Aboushi, but he doesn't move as well. I'm curious to see Aboushi in the preseason games. Other surprises: Rookie linebacker Trevor Reilly, linebacker Troy Davis and safety Rontez Miles.
@RichCimini: In a word, yes. And don't forget about Bilal Powell and Daryl Richardson, who has been flying under the radar. The coaches like what he's showing. The Jets finished sixth in total rushing last season, 26 yards per game behind the Philadelphia Eagles. That's a lot of ground to make up, especially with LeSean McCoy down there, but the Jets can challenge if Chris Johnson stays healthy. We know they have a coaching staff whose mindset is to run the ball.
@RichCimini: They feed off Ryan, who obviously is the eternal optimist and isn't shy about expressing his feelings, especially this year. This subject is a slippery slope for reporters. Obviously, our job is to provide interesting content for our readers and viewers, and the fans have a right to know what their favorite players are saying, but it can reach the point of absurdity. And I think we're hovering close to that point right now.
@RichCimini: Quite frankly, none of them have impressed. Quincy Enunwa is injured, so we haven't seen anything out of him. Shaq Evans looks like he has enough speed to be a vertical threat, but he has dropped several passes. Ryan loves Jalen Saunders -- he gets plenty of reps -- but he disappears. Right now, if I had to rank the receivers, I don't think any of the rookies would make the team, based on performance. My top five: Eric Decker, David Nelson, Jeremy Kerley, Jacoby Ford and Stephen Hill.
@RichCimini: Hill is an enigma. Sunday's practice was a classic example. On the first play of team drills, he dropped an easy ball on a crossing route. Later, he ran a 'go' route on Dimitri Patterson, shedding the veteran corner with a downfield burst and hauling in a nice reception from Geno Smith. I think the question the Jets must ask themselves is this: Can Hill be trusted? Right now, I don't think he has earned their trust. I think he has concentration and intensity issues. As for Smith and Decker, yeah, they're already starting to develop a rapport. Smith looks for him a lot, maybe too much. Funny thing about quarterbacks, though: They like to throw to the guy that's open.
@RichCimini: Obviously, he does. He told me he thinks he'll be a top-five quarterback this season or next. Yes, I think he will improve. You can see it in practice: He's more comfortable at the line of scrimmage, doesn't force as many passes and will take off to run if no one is open. He has to be better than last year, right? The question is, how much better? I don't know. We won't know until we see him in game situations. All I know is, if he messes up, it'll be bench time because they won't hesitate to insert Michael Vick.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Look, I'm not saying he can and I'm not saying he can't. I have nothing but respect for Eli Manning's abilities and the things he can do. He can beat Tom Brady in the Super Bowl, and if you didn't believe that after the first time, he did it again for good measure. The New York Giants' quarterback is largely underrated and underappreciated, and he's perfectly capable of having a great season even though he's coming off his worst season.
If Manning completes 70 percent of his passes this year in Ben McAdoo's new offense, as quarterbacks coach Danny Langsdorf said Monday he'd challenged Manning to do, then McAdoo, Langsdorf and anyone else who had a hand in it should have their choice of NFL head-coaching jobs next January. And they can ride unicorns with Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny to the interviews.
Start with the very short list of quarterbacks who've ever hit that number in a full NFL season. It's basically Drew Brees (twice, in 2009 and 2011), Joe Montana (1989) and Steve Young (1994). Langsdorf said the list he gave Manning also included Sammy Baugh, Ken Anderson and Alex Smith. But Baugh played only eight games in the 1945 season in which he hit the mark (the league played a 10-game season that year). Anderson's 1982 season was only nine games long due to a players strike. And Smith put up his 70.2 mark in 10 games in 2012 before losing his job to Colin Kaepernick.
So if Manning is to hit this goal over a full season, he'll be doing something only three other players -- two of whom are in the Hall of Fame, and one of whom surely will be -- have done. The fact that it's a nearly impossible achievement is the first and best reason to doubt it. Manning's career completion percentage is 58.5, and his career high for a single season is 62.9, set in 2010. He would have had to complete an additional 69 passes in 2013 to get to 70 percent from the dismal 57.5 at which he finished. That's 4.3 more completions per game. Even in 2010, he would have needed 39 more completions, or 2.4 per game. May not sound like a lot, but it is when you think about what it means.
Secondly, as much as we've written about the Giants' new offensive scheme, there are still legitimate concerns about whether they have the personnel to run it effectively. The offensive line isn't set yet. Their wide receiver group is littered with question marks after Victor Cruz. They do not have a reliable pass-catching tight end on the roster. And as much as they want to stress high-percentage plays and completion percentage, it's tough to imagine they'll throw to the running backs all season.
Which kind of leads me to my final point: Eli Manning, risk-taker. Manning's calling card as a quarterback has always been, to me, his fearlessness. He has the confidence to try any throw, no matter how risky, because (a) he believes he can make it, and (b) he has an uncommon ability to put mistakes behind him and not let them affect his performance as the game goes along.
It's inconceivable to think that McAdoo and Langsdorf could change this about Manning even if they wanted to, and it's inconceivable to believe they would want to. Manning's ability to deliver an uncanny throw in a huge spot is one of the few things you can point to right now in this Giants offense that might have a chance to set it apart from others in the league. Their challenge is to install an offense that's more efficient and less turnover-prone while still making use of what Manning does best. So there's still going to be plenty of downfield stuff, and that stuff will come with more risk.
Now, OK. I understand about coaching and motivation. If Langsdorf sets a goal of 70 percent and Manning aims for it but falls 5 percent short, he'd still obliterate his career high and improve on last year by 7.5 percent. The Giants would surely take that. But hearing Langsdorf say this Monday brought home the ideas of (a) how much different this offense is going to be than it has been for the past decade, and (b) how hard it's going to be for the Giants to be proficient in their new offense in its first season.
Once a staple of training camps, the days of live hitting have diminished in the new age of the NFL thanks to the 2011 CBA when teams are limited to one practice a day.
But, for now, it served as a good change of pace and as something different than under previous coach Mike Shanahan. He opted for the old San Francisco way under Bill Walsh where full contact was not welcomed.
Regardless, the players enjoyed it, perhaps helped by knowing they had Tuesday off. They ran a one-on-one drill with a ball-carrier and a defender stationed 10-15 yards away. They had a live tackling session featuring the backups against one another. There were several near scuffles thanks to the extra contact. Once, linebacker Adam Hayward yelled at fullback Stephen Campbell after the latter drove someone to the ground in a return drill.
“We don’t do that [expletive],” Hayward said as receiver DeSean Jackson shouted back at him.
“The intensity level is picking up,” tight end Niles Paul said. “Things got intense today. That’s the type of thing we want to have, an aggressive team that doesn’t back down.”
“So much fun,” fullback Darrel Young said. “Man, you got the defense that says they make plays. But we got pads on, make the tackle. Everything got competitive today. That’s what you like in your team. I had fun out there. Guys tackling, guys hitting. That’s football. That’s what we needed."
After last season the Redskins had entered training camp with that so-called chip on their shoulder. Apparently they spent Monday trying to knock it off one another. A team coming off a 3-13 season needs to play that way more often.
“Yeah, you play with a chip on your shoulder,” defensive end Chris Baker said. “We know how quickly things can go bad when you don’t take care of the small things. We’re trying to take care of the small things in practice. ... A couple of fights broke out, but that’s what happens when it’s live competition.”
Take Johnny Manziel for example.
Speaking on NFL Network during Sunday’s practice, Jones talked about just how close the Cowboys were to taking Johnny Football with the 16th pick of the first round in the May draft.
Speaking at a function in June in Arkansas honoring Jones’ former coach, Frank Broyles, Jones had this to say about how difficult it was to pass on Manziel:
"Well, it was,” Jones said. “Yes, it was. First of all, I couldn't believe he had fallen there. And secondly, we had spent a lot of time, I'd spent a lot of time. He's the kind of player that can be that kind of difference-maker. There's no doubt in my mind that he'll be a successful player. We have in Romo what I consider to be the better quarterback. But there's also the future, there's also insurance if you don't have him. If anybody could have adjusted to Manziel's style, we could have because we're a lot like that with Romo.”
And finally let’s revisit what Jones said at a news conference on draft night after the Cowboys took Zack Martin in the first round .
“As you well know in here, Romo, by contract as well as by commitment, is certainly the quarterback for the Cowboys for several years to come,” Jones said. “There is no moving around that. I don’t care who you draft, that’s the way it would have been. That was going through our minds from the get-go. That’s why we didn’t spend a lot of time at all in this draft considering Manziel.”
The next time Jones is asked about Manziel he just might say the Cowboys had his name on a card ready to turn in to the commissioner.