from David Helman
FOX Sports Dallas Cowboys Writer
COSTA MESA, Calif. — Call it a glimpse of what the future might look like Dak Prescott if the holidays don’t go his way.
With CeeDee Lamb missing another day of practice with a cut foot and Noah Brown adding to the injury report with a toe problem, Prescott’s receiver corps at Thursday’s joint practice against the LA Chargers looked mostly like a practice squad.
This is not meant as a knock on staff, it is simply a statement of fact. Simi Fehoko, who played seven snaps as a rookie last season, is currently the most experienced healthy receiver on the Cowboys roster. Behind him is KaVaontae Turpin, who spent the spring playing in the USFL but is getting his first snaps in the NFL this month.
Everyone else on the depth chart is either a rookie or never played a regular season game and it looked like it.
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Throughout the afternoon, the Cowboys seemed to lack consistency in their passing game. Dalton Schultz continued his connection with Prescott, catching one of the few passes of the day. But for the most part it was hard not to notice declines from Turpin, Jalen Tolbert and Tony Pollard.
The biggest exception to that was undrafted rookie Dennis Houston, who continued what has been a strong training camp.
The Western Illinois standout caught two contested passes from Prescott, including an impressive post route up the middle of the field. And that was before the finale of practice, when Prescott attempted a Hail Mary from midfield at the end of the two-minute scrimmage drill and found Houston in a huddle for a “game-winning” touchdown.
“I talked about it on Monday, just those guys that can come into an opportunity and make some plays, make something that maybe they haven’t done,” Prescott said.
It is beyond fair to say that the boys have seized this opportunity. It’s just a matter of whether that’s good enough. Back to square one, Houston also faced a slump in the crucial red zone period of practice.
Asked about it, however, Prescott shrugged off the idea that he would be frustrated by his supporting cast.
“That’s what it’s about,” he said. “This is exactly the time to work and get other guys to step up and take advantage of their opportunity. Who knows? Hopefully not, but there may be times when those guys aren’t available and we have to we know what we are working with.
“Those guys need to know what I expect from them and how they expect me to throw the ball.”
To be fair, it’s also true that the regular season is still three weeks away. Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy told reporters Thursday morning that Lamb will likely return to practice when the team resumes practice in Frisco, Texas.
Michael Gallup also raised some eyebrows after practice when he ran a few routes and caught a few passes from Prescott — a clear sign that he’s making good progress in his recovery from a torn ACL last January.
Lamb should be fine, and reinforcements are definitely on the way. It’s just that Thursday provided a stark reminder of how thin the depth chart looks at receiver. Hopefully for the Cowboys, Houston and others can continue to run with this opportunity in the regular season.
For now, Prescott will continue to try to bring the offense regardless of who is available.
“I do what I’m asked to do. “Being the quarterback of this team, and any time you play that position, you know your responsibility is to get other guys to come with you, get other guys to shut down and get disciplined. It’s no different if receiver Corps is old or new. They look to me for answers, I look to them to communicate and be on the same page. We’re going to continue to do that and continue to grow.”
Thursday marked the Cowboys’ final practice on the West Coast. Here are some additional notes from the practice fields at the Jack R. Hammett Sports Complex.
The main choice
It’s about time you knew the name DaRon Bland, if you don’t already. The fifth-round pick out of Fresno State raised some eyebrows in Denver with a solid outing in the preseason opener. He built on that Thursday with his best practice to date.
With Jourdan Lewis sitting out with a strained hamstring, Bland got a chance to start at nickel back and made the most of it. He threw a pick on the team’s first play of the period, but he managed two more pass breakups and came away with an end-zone interception late in practice.
McCarthy said Thursday that the Cowboys’ goal is to have Lewis healthy in time for Week 1, which means we may not see much of him for the rest of training camp. If so, what a Day 3 draft pick. Anthony Brown has plenty of experience in the slot and can move inside if needed. But if Bland continues to shine, the coaches could opt to leave the veteran in his usual role on the left side and let the rookie handle the nickel role.
Second-year corners Kelvin Joseph and Nahshon Wright get the most publicity, given their draft stock. But Bland is making a strong case as the best young corner in this camp.
Eyes on LB
Wednesday featured Micah Parsons, but other members of the Cowboys linebacker corps were involved Thursday. On the first play of two minutes of practice, Leighton Vander Esch came out of the flat in Justin Herbert’s throwing lane, making a diving layup to kill a potential scoring drive. Luke Gifford also had a near interception that he threw away.
It’s also interesting to note that Anthony Barr was included in some of the team’s reps on Thursday. The Cowboys are gradually working with the veteran linebacker, but they showed some low looks with the trio of Barr, Parsons and Vander Esch all on the field at the same time.
Both of these teams have some juice among their runners, if that wasn’t obvious. The Cowboys enjoyed another productive day, running into Chargers defenders as Dante Fowler Jr. and Quinton Bohanna both finished with sacks.
However, the Chargers hire Joey Bosa and Khalil Mack, and it shows. For starters, the Chargers defense completely shut down the Dallas run game on Thursday after giving up several plays on Wednesday. Additionally, there were at least three or four times when LA runners got to Prescott in the backfield.
David Helman covers the Dallas Cowboys for FOX Sports, providing insight and analysis on the NFL’s most notable franchise. Prior to joining FOX, David spent nine seasons covering the Cowboys for the team’s official website, DallasCowboys.com. In 2018, he won a regional Emmy for his role in the production of “Dak Prescott: A Family Reunion” about the quarterback’s time at Mississippi State.
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