OXNARD, Calif. — The Dallas Cowboys have held training camp here for the better part of 10 years, but this is still a Raiders town. On Tuesday and Wednesday, Raiders fans took over the Cowboys’ facility and turned it into a hostile environment for the defense.
Rookie cornerback Terrance Mitchell was heckled relentlessly as he attempted to cover Raiders receivers during one-on-one drills. Mitchell, a seventh-round pick this past May, may be pressed into duty while Orlando Scandrick sits out the first four games of the season for violating the NFL’s drug policy. Every coach I talked to Wednesday marveled at the intensity during the two practices with the Raiders.
"It’s as electric a practice as I’ve been around in my life," said Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett.
The Cowboys’ defense had its moments, but the unit continues to be inconsistent. Garrett and defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli were both upset with how the defense performed in last Thursday’s preseason loss to the Chargers.
"It wasn’t good enough," Marinelli told "The Afternoon Show with Cowlishaw and Mosley" on Monday. "Some guys showed up a little more than others. I think there’s standards and they understand what those standards are. It was explained exactly what I was looking for."
At this time last summer, then defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin told me he was very concerned about the amount of injuries on the defensive side of the ball. Now, the Cowboys have already lost middle linebacker Sean Lee for the season and rookie defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence for the first few weeks of the season. I asked Marinelli if the injuries caused him to say, "here we go again."
"I think when you’re in a leadership role you are the source of all energy for everyone else," Marinellis said. "If you’re in a leadership position and you frown or show a little depression, what’s that show to the men you’re leading?"
Marinelli coached defensive tackle Henry Melton in Chicago. Melton had been practicing until he tweaked a groin in Sunday’s practice. Marinelli may be tougher on Melton than any player on the defense, in part because he’s known him for so long. And don’t expect him to be effusive with his praise of the player.
"I see at time flashes but not consistency," Marinelli said. "And that’s what I’m looking for is consistency from him. You don’t have someone walk in and be the same player. But I could see some flashes the last two days. When he gets all that practice, I expect him to do well for us."
Marinelli is bullish on his secondary. He was speaking to us before he knew about Scandrick’s suspension, but he spent a lot of time discussing cornerback Mo Claiborne. Marinelli was asked if the secondary could "save"this team.
"I think so, yes," said Marinelli. "They have the ability. When we get to third-and-plus, we have a shot to be really good. I feel good about the progress on third downs. We have to do better on first and second downs."
Former Cowboys offensive line coach Tony Sparano, now in the same capacity wth the Raiders, told 103.3 FM ESPN on Wednesday that Nick Hayden, George Selvie and rookie defensive tackle Davon Coleman were the three players that caught his eye during Tuesday’s and Wednesday’s practices.
They were the three players that kept the Cowboys from being completely annihilated by the Raiders’ offense. Now, we’ll see if they can stay on the field with the Ravens.