SAN ANTONIO, Texas -- The Dallas Cowboys no longer are the stage for the T.O. Show. That act has moved out of town, and has been replaced by something the Cowboys believe can be even more dynamic than what Terrell Owens provided for three seasons.
By all indications in today's practice and earlier sessions at the Dallas Cowboys' training camp in the Alamodome, Roy E. Williams, the team's new No. 1 wide receiver, fully understands that his chance to own a very large chunk of the NFL spotlight has arrived. Most of the passes thrown during drills came his way, and he caught the vast majority. He showed a great deal of explosiveness, which is due in large part to his reducing his weight from 220 to 209 pounds and increasing his strength.
Williams clearly seems determined to make up for the minimal impact he made after joining the Cowboys in a trade with the Detroit Lions last October. In 10 games with Dallas last year (including seven starts), he caught only 19 passes for 198 yards and a touchdown.
"I learned a lot from (Owens) in my 10 weeks with him, and the best of luck to him (in Buffalo), but this is my football team now as far as wide receivers go, and I can just make plays," Williams said. "I want to be the best. (Arizona's) Larry Fitzgerald is No. 1, and people are trying to catch him. (Houston's) Andre Johnson is No. 2, in my opinion, so I'm trying to get up there with those guys and help this team win ballgames. I feel, if I can make plays out there and be a dominant force, I can help this team win."
Jon Kitna, signed as a free agent to back up Tony Romo at quarterback, knows Williams well from their time together as teammates in Detroit. He sees two primary reasons why Williams will achieve his goal to be the best: He has considerable intelligence, allowing him to see defenses the way the quarterback does, and he has a tremendous work ethic.
"He's going to work hard (because) he wants to be a superstar," Kitna said. "He's in the perfect situation. Tony needs him, he needs Tony. And the thing about Roy is, if you give him the ball when he's supposed to have it, he gets on a roll. And when he gets on a roll, he can become almost intimidating to a defense."
"Me and Tony came in four weeks before the offseason (workouts) started to get this thing going," Williams said. "And it's paying off right now."
» The Cowboys' trio of running backs has a fitting nickname: "Tash, Dash, and Smash." "Tash" is for Tashard Choice, who got the idea for the nickname from a visitor to his website, tchoice23.com; "Dash" is for speedster Felix Jones, and "Smash" is for powerful Marion Barber. The three are highly competitive and try to outdo each other with each carry in practice. Jones and Choice ran particularly hard on Friday. Although much is made of Romo's passing, it seems as if the Cowboys, with Jones fully healthy from a hamstring injury that limited him to only five games during his rookie season in 2008, are going to have more of a run-oriented attack this season.
» Despite being newcomers to the Cowboys, linebacker Keith Brooking and defensive end Igor Olshansky are as well versed as any of their teammates on the defensive scheme of coach Wade Phillips. Brooking played in it when Phillips was defensive coordinator and interim coach in Atlanta, and Olshansky worked in it when Phillips was defensive coordinator in San Diego. Both are doing their part to help reinforce the basics of what helped both be successful in their previous stints with Phillips. "Everything's pretty much the same," Olshansky said. "The Cowboys have their own flavor of things, but it's very, very similar, so there's not much lag time for me."
» Anthony Spencer looks as if he is going to be a solid replacement for Greg Ellis, now with the Oakland Raiders, at outside linebacker. Spencer is getting off the ball well and consistently making good penetration as a pass rusher. But the 2007 first-round draft pick does understand that he has some reasonably large cleats to fill; Ellis has had a half-dozen or more sacks in a season eight times, including the eight he had in 2008. "To be the starter, they put a lot of trust in me, and I expect to deliver," said Spencer, who had a 1 ½ sacks as a backup in '08. He particularly likes being part of what is expected to be a more aggressive version of the defense that led the NFL with 59 sacks last season, including 20 by outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware. " I know that D Ware is going to be getting a lot of attention, being the player that he is, and it's going to (create) a lot of opportunity for me to get sacks and help out my numbers, so I'm excited about it," Spencer said.
» The Cowboys do a nice job of keeping their loyal fans happy. After practice, players have a 15-minute period when they sign autographs. And a good portion of them do so, although with thousands of fans in attendance, it's hard to get to all of them. An air horn sounds when the session is over, but several players were seen signing away afterward.
Defensive end Marcus Spears reported to camp weighing around 288 pounds, which is 27 pounds lighter than he was a year ago.
Spears clearly is moving with greater quickness, something the Cowboys want to enhance in their defense. The downside, however, is that because he is so much lighter on his feet, he hasn't quite gotten the hang of how to control his movement.
"I'm having problems catching up with my speed; I'm falling down on the ground a lot," Spears said. "But I'm glad we're practicing. I'll have that down and a handle on that by the time it's time to go."
Besides following a rigorous conditioning program with a personal trainer during the offseason, Spears also has changed his diet. He has cut back dramatically on carbohydrates, eliminated fried foods, and consumed more water.
"It's a process," he said. "I'm from Louisiana and I grew up on all that type of (fatty) food. I had to learn how to eat right."
|Eric Gay / Associated Press|
|WR Jessie Holley, shown here being dragged down from behind by rookie CB Mike Mickens, earned a training camp roster spot by winning the '4th and long' reality show competition.|
Technically, wide receiver Jesse Holley isn't a rookie, but he might as well be because of his fractional pro background (brief stints with Cincinnati and the British Columbia Lions of the Canadian Football League) and the fact there isn't a longer long shot to make the team.
Holley got the opportunity to be a part of the Cowboys' 80-man roster after winning a competition for the spot the Spike TV reality show, "4th and Long," hosted by former Cowboy receiver Michael Irvin. Holley is dead-last on an 11-man depth chart at his position. Holley played football and basketball at the University of North Carolina, and was part of the Tar Heels' 2005 national-championship basketball squad.
He shows solid pass-catching skills, and runs decent routes, particularly for someone who did not participate in offseason workouts with the team. Phillips sees NFL talent in Holley, and so far, he hasn't embarrassed himself. Still, it seems unlikely he is going to make it to the final cut.
There was some discussion at the start of camp about fans becoming restless over Romo's failure to deliver a championship, and that he has lost his status as a darling of the team and is now feeling greater heat to produce.
One story in the local paper talked about the criticism that has been directed toward Romo on Cowboy fan sites on the Internet. Romo was even asked to address the subject during a post-practice media session, and he gave a philosophical response: "Eventually, as you get older, you start to realize not everybody is going to like you. Not everybody is going to want to root for you. We are lucky enough to have a lot of fans that support me and support this team, and I'm very fortunate for that. But I also understand not everybody is going to."
Then came Friday's practice. As the special teams were going through their usual drill at the beginning of practice, the crowd suddenly let out a roar. It was for tight end Jason Witten, who jogged across the field from the tunnel. After that, the cheering became even louder.
This time, the recipient of the adulation was Romo.
"We wouldn't have this many people in the stands 20 minutes prior to our games in Detroit. It's an awesome thing to see." -- Quarterback Jon Kitna, whom the Cowboys acquired in free agency from the Lions, on the estimated 10,000 fans at practice.
Rookie safety Michael Hamlin made one of the more impressive plays of the day with a diving interception on a tipped ball. …In previous camps here, the Cowboys used to have all of their meeting rooms in the Alamodome and only used the nearby hotel housing them for sleeping and meals. Now, they have meetings at the hotel as well. It is, according to Phillips, a much better arrangement because "it's like a dungeon (in the bowels of the dome)."…Bum Phillips, former NFL coach and father of the Cowboys' coach, was on the sidelines watching practice in his trademark 10-gallon cowboy hat. He drew cheers as he waved to fans.