IRVING, Texas – A skillion impressions from what I’ve seen and heard in this week’s Dallas Cowboys OTAs:
• DeMarco Murray practiced on a limited basis on Wednesday and did first-team work on Thursday. Hamstring crisis avoided for now … as Murray targets a 16-game participation.
“I am going to play all 16 this year, and I’m excited,” he said. “It’s going to be a great year for us.”
He’s missed nine games in two years. But when he was right as a rookie, he averaged 5.5 yards per carry coming off a combine time of 4.41 in the 40.
Getting DeMarco back there is the goal. Careful handling in May is a way to the goal.
• Second-team safety J.J. Wilcox is calling some defensive signals and making some defensive plays. His interception return for a TD put the capper on the Tuesday practice. But it might only be the beginning of big things for the rookie.
•This is Tight End Week at Valley Ranch … but maybe it’ll be a Tight End Season. Jason Witten capped Tuesday’s 2-minute drill with a TD catch; James Hanna made a series of one-handed grabs; rookie Gavin Escobar is picking things up quickly; and maybe Colin Cochart is doing enough to get a fourth-tight end look.
One source tells me to slow down on the prediction of “12 Personnel” being the base offense.
“It’s early,” said the source. “We want to do it. We’re still discovering whether we can.”
• Rookie Terrence Williams received some first-team work as a third receiver, on the outside. He seemed to show nice instincts for the footwork needed to make sideline catches.
• Dez Bryant is once again a man among kids in terms of his physicality and his route-running confidence. This is a different, more mature, better player than Dallas employed a year ago.
• I would suggest that Sean Lee as an OTA punt protector does not epitomize ‘Asset Management.’
• Maybe it’s due to the wind, but on Tuesday backup QB Kyle Orton (getting lots of work as Tony Romo recovers from the cyst surgery) struggled with accuracy. He recovered late in that workout, though, by unleashing a 64-yard beauty to Cole Beasley.
• Beasley, by the way, hasn’t dropped a pass in either of the two open workouts. I even spotted him lining up outside — instead of his usual slot spot — a sign of growth.
• Mo Claiborne gained six pounds of muscle, but his quickness/footwork remains unmatched on the cowboys roster.
• There were times in his rookie season when from Phillip Tanner seemed unsure of himself as a pass-catcher and when choosing holes and the like. He “ran smarter” on Tuesday.
• On Tuesday, Romo spent a few moments on the treadmill before arriving on the practice field to work with QBs & RBs. Shortly after that, a TV host in Bristol remarked that Romo “looks fat.”
Makes a guy want to just stay inside and run that treadmill, eh?
• Anthony Hargrove may have bum ankle or something. He did not look smooth as he went through the cones in his agility work.
• Secondary coach Jerome Henderson says second-year safety Matt Johnson “is a rookie. He is not just like a rookie, he is a rookie. In my book he is rookie just like all the other rookies.”
The punishment for spending all last season on various injury lists.
• NBA legend Michael Jordan had four words for Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant when he met him for the first time in February at the NBA All-Star Weekend in Houston:
Stay. Out. Of. Trouble.
Dez is working to design a shoe for Nike under the Jordan Brand label, and tells me he’ll soon travel to Portland to start the process — which will include an “X” on the shoe.
I offered to help, using my artistic skills.
“Thanks,” Dez said, “but it doesn’t take much skill to draw an ‘X.'”
•Jerry Jones says Jason Garrett isn’t coaching for his job this season. Jason Garrett says he is.
“Ever since I’ve been in this league, as a player, as a coach, I think everybody each and every day is playing and coaching for their jobs,” Garrett said Tuesday. “That’s the nature of this thing, and that’s what makes the NFL great.”
Jerry and Jason are the Yin and Yang of this place.
•I sense that we are seeing the Bill Callahan installation of more zone blocking stuff in the offensive line.
•Defensive end Anthony Spencer looked powerful in team work on Tuesday, as if he’s primed to earn the long-term deal he desires.
“I’m really not worried about it,” Spencer said Tuesday on the second week of OTAs. “I come here, I work, and then I go home and relax.”
Spencer is locked into making the $10.6-mil franchise tag money this year — that’s relaxing! — and when nudged by the media, also agreed that an over/under on sacks for him might be 12.
He had a career-high 11 sacks last year. But when I study the strong-side ends’ in this system in Minnesota, Chicago and Tampa, the magic number seems closer to eight.
•Dwayne Harris seems like the runaway winner of the punt-returner job.
•The early talk of rookie first-rounder Travis Frederick playing some guard seems dead. He is lining up exclusively at center, and at the end of one workout, took on an unusual leadership role, signalling for the entire team to gather around him for a final word from the coach.
•Ultimately, rookies are still rookies, though. So in the locker room, which includes an assortment of leather sofas, is a sign:
“Rookies: Stay of the couches. Feel lucky to have a locker.”