The Dallas Cowboys officially ended West Coast training camp practices with their second joint practice with the Los Angeles Chargers on Thursday.
The Cowboys face the Chargers in their second preseason game on Saturday at SoFi Stadium and will resume training camp on Monday at their headquarters at the Star in Frisco.
They have been in California since starting camp in Oxnard on July 26.
The Cowboys concluded their final practice against the Chargers on high notes on both sides of the ball with an interception by rookie cornerback DeRon Bland in the end zone on defense and a Hail Mary touchdown reception by rookie receiver Dennis Houston from quarterback Dak Prescott on offense.
“It was a good to end on that note,” Prescott said. “Just being in that situation at end of the game. The guys did a job of protecting, letting me buy some time. I put it up. Glad we came down with it.”
Youth was definitely served out of necessity as the Cowboys were short at cornerback because of a hamstring injury to nickel back Jourdan Lewis. And CeeDee Lamb missed his second practice with a cut foot, leaving Prescott with no receivers on offense who had ever caught a pass in a game from him.
Here are 5 observations from Cowboys-Chargers practice:
Brown, Lamb injuries leave youth at receiver
It was all smiles for the Cowboys at the end of practice when Dennis Houston hauled in the Hail Mary touchdown pass from quarterback Dak Prescott to end practice on a high note.
But it wasn’t pretty for much of the day for Prescott and a receiver corps that was without it’s only two veterans in Lamb (cut foot) and Brown (toe).
Houston and fellow rookie Jalen Tobert and second-year players Brandon Smith and Semi Fehoko were the wide receivers who ran with the first team. Running back Tony Pollard also got extended snaps with starters as a slot receiver.
And it was a mixed bag for the group. Houston had two contested catches in team drills in addition to the Hail Mary but also had a drop. Pollard had a drop. Receiver KaVontae Turpin and tight end Dalton Schultz also had drops.
“I don’t get frustrated. That is what this is about,” Prescott said. “This is the time for work and make other guys step up and take advantage of their opportunity. Nothing but opportunity. It was big for them. Opportunity for them to make some plays. Good things to be worked on.”
DeRon Bland has big day, stakes claim for roster spot
Rookie fifth-round pick DeRon Bland has been a standout since the start of training camp.
He had a strong performance in the preseason opener against the Denver Broncos. With Jourdan Lewis out with a hamstring injury, he got a chance to run with the first team at nickel cornerback against the Chargers.
Bland made his presence felt on the first play of team drills, undercutting a receiver and nearly picking off quarterback Justin Herbert. It was a play he should have made but it was a sign of things to come.
Bland had three pass deflections on the day and he ended practice for the defense with an interception in the end zone of a pass from quarterback Chase Daniel.
Bland is competing with 2021 second-round pick Kelvin Joseph for the backup cornerback spot behind starters Kelvin Joseph and Trevon Diggs. But he also showed the versatility to play inside.
Maher and Hajrullahu compete for kicker job
The Cowboys gave their kickers an extended look on Thursday as Brett Maher and Lirim Hajrullahu continue to compete for the primary job.
They had the obstacle kicking into a skinny goal post at the Chargers practice facility. Maher made 6 of 9 kicks and Hajrullahu made 4 of 9 but but the up rights were not at regulation distance.
Several of the kicks that bounced off the up rights would have been successful field goals in a game.
The Cowboys will try to give them their fair share of opportunities in the preseason game Saturday night.
Barr practices for the first time, Vander Esch has interception
There were several highlights on defense.
Newly-signed linebacker Anthony Barr participated in team drills for the first time. After signing earlier in camp, he had been on the physically unable to perform list.
The Cowboys showed a lineup with him Barr, Vander Esch and Micah Parsons on the field together at linebacker. Parsons was in the middle with Barr and Vander Esch on the outside.
Vander Esch continued his strong showing in camp with interception on the first play of team drills.
Ironically, the interception came one play after the Chargers scored on a touchdown run against the second unit. Joshua Kelley broke a tackle from cornerback Nahshon Wright and walked into the end zone, resulting a celebration from the Chargers sideline.
Cowboys defensive end Tarell Basham shot back: “That’s the only time all day that y’all moved the ball.”
Vander Esch ended a 2-minute drill by the Chargers starters on the ensuing play with an interception of Herbert.
Michael Gallup runs routes, catches passes from Prescott
The Cowboys got a good sign at the end of practice when receiver Michael Gallup ran some routes and caught passes from quarterback Dak Prescott.
Gallup is still on the physically unable to perform list as the continues to rehab from a torn ACL. He is not expected back until after the start of the season.
But the sight of him running routes and catching passes could mean that his return might be sooner than later.
There is a chance the Cowboys might still add a veteran receiver to the roster.
Gallup’s timetable could impact that decision.