Dallas Cowboys: Early impressions from training camp

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Oxnard. Calif.

With a daily high in the mid-70s, Oxnard, Calif. must feel like paradise to the Dallas Cowboys, who began training camp there on Thursday. The setting is idyllic, but the team has a lot of hard work to do there. Training camp marks the final push toward the preseason and, ultimately, an early-September clash with the San Francisco 49ers. The Cowboys have no time to waste if they aim to be ready for it.

Saturday marked the third day of practice and the first in pads, so any early observations must be taken with a grain of salt. Still, there were notable performers throughout the camp, anxious to start the 2014 season on the right foot. Here are a few players who made an impression, either positive or negative, over the first few days.

DT Henry Melton

Any thought of Melton easing his way back into football activities was erased by his outstanding Thursday practice, as the team’s new 3-tech burned through drills like a man possessed. Dallascowboys.com staff writer David Helman posted about Melton that day and seemed encouraged by what he saw:

Melton played just three games with Chicago last year before being sidelined with a knee injury, but he appears 100% and ready to go in Oxnard. He can’t push it too hard because the team needs him healthy, but they also need him to be one of their biggest sack threats. He certainly looks capable of fulfilling that role.

OG Mackenzy Bernadeau

Ronald Leary must be kicking himself after straining his hamstring during a conditioning test earlier this week–he has opened the door for Bernadeau to take all the snaps with the first-team offensive line. With Zack Martin in Bernadeau’s old right guard position, Bernadeau must prove versatile if he wants to retain his starting job.

Bernadeau has now had a few days to mesh with Martin and center Travis Frederick, while also taking some snaps at center with the second-team O-line. Time will tell if these early reps are enough for him to win Leary’s left guard job. No word yet as to when Leary will be ready to come back.

[Dallas Cowboys face uncertainty as camp approaches]

CB Morris Claiborne

Shocking though it may be, Dallas Cowboys writers had positive things to say about Claiborne after his showing in Thursday’s practice, particularly after one-on-one drills with second-year wide receiver Terrance Williams. Tim McMahon of ESPN wrote that Claiborne got the better of Williams on four consecutive reps, vocally sparring with his offensive counterpart.

It wasn’t much, but at this point Cowboys fans are looking for any sign at all to validate the high cost the team paid for Claiborne in 2012. Rod Marinelli’s defensive scheme will likely give Claiborne far more chances to succeed in press coverage. Maybe in his third season Claiborne will finally become the answer they have been searching for.

WR Terrance Williams

Which leads me to wonder: what on Earth is Williams doing getting dominated by Claiborne on four consecutive plays? This isn’t cause for alarm, but Williams isn’t doing himself any favors by taking mediocre snaps. The Cowboys have far too many receivers at camp for anyone not named Dez Bryant to relax for a moment.

Williams will probably be just fine. He’ll no doubt be looking forward to his next one-on-one session with Claiborne.

As camp progresses new stars and stories will come to light–after the disappointment of 2013, there will be plenty of opportunities for young players, especially defensemen, to make an impression. Remember to keep an eye on our Cowboys page for all the latest from Oxnard.