When training camp started for the Dallas Cowboys in July, no one had a clue which receivers would fill the roster spots this year behind Miles Austin and Dez Bryant. While the answer to that question is still a long way from being carved in stone, the Cowboys definitely have a firmer grasp on the situation after two preseason games.
Six receivers not named Austin or Bryant have caught at least one pass in Dallas’ first two exhibitions against the Oakland Raiders and San Diego Chargers. Kevin Ogletree, the only receiver besides Austin and Bryant to have an official NFL reception to his name, is second on that list with five catches for 72 yards. He’s also received the most reps with the first team through training camp and the preseason.
Ogletree has had the Cowboys’ No. 3 receiver spot handed to him on a silver platter in each of the past two seasons and dropped it both times. Many Cowboys fans are lobbying for Ogletree to “win” the job again in 2012, but that’s only because they don’t know the names of the other guys vying for the position.
Cole Beasley didn’t record a catch in the exhibition against the Raiders, but still leads all Dallas receivers this preseason with seven catches for 104 yards against the Chargers. He had very limited time with the Cowboys’ first-team offense, but did manage to haul in a 14-yard reception from Tony Romo. Then it was the Beasley show in the second half as he shredded the Chargers’ defensive reserves for 90 yards on six grabs while catching passes from Stephen McGee and Rudy Carpenter. In fact, Beasley was targeted on five straight plays in the fourth quarter and caught four of them.
The issue with Beasley is he’s a slot receiver and nothing more; he’s good in the slot, but he can’t play on the outside. That’s a problem because Austin spends a lot of time in the slot and Beasley won’t ever be put on the outside opposite Bryant with Austin in the slot. That means if Beasley makes the squad, which he definitely should, he’ll be the primary backup in the slot and that could garner him lots of playing time considering Austin’s injury history.
Dwayne Harris was a favorite to win the No. 3 receiver job last year after Dallas’ second exhibition, but faded toward the end of the preseason. In 2012, he’s caught five passes for 55 yards with quite a few reps with the first-team. Harris’ problem is consistency; he can’t afford disappear at any point in practice or the Cowboys’ final two preseason games like he did as a rookie last year.
Raymond Radway was another 2011 favorite, but he’s yet to catch a pass this preseason and training camp standout Tim Benford hasn’t done much for himself, either, catching just one pass for nine yards in garbage time against the Raiders. Both players are fading fast in the race for the final three receiver spots on the Cowboys’ 53-man active roster.
Andre Holmes, on the other hand, is leading the pack as they make the turn at the end of the backstretch. The second-year pro out of Hillsdale College has made the most of his reps this preseason, making aggressive catches in traffic and showing he’s not afraid of contact. Holmes didn’t catch a pass from Romo against the Chargers, but the receptions he recorded from the Cowboys’ backup quarterbacks were memorable.
So how do all of these guys stack up with two more preseason games to go and one week until the first round of roster cuts? At 6’4″ and 224 lbs., Holmes is easily the favorite to win the third receiver job, considering this player will play a lot on the outside opposite Bryant while Austin mans the slot. Holmes is by far the best prospect for the job.
Beasley will also make the roster as the primary slot backup and will likely see plenty of reps during the season since it’s “when” and not “if” Austin gets injured. He’s proven he can play at the NFL level after limited reps in training camp and the preseason and that hasn’t gone unnoticed by the Cowboys’ coaching staff.
That means the rest of the bunch will be battling for that fifth and final spot through the final two preseason games. But what about Danny Coale, the Cowboys’ fifth-round draft pick this year? We haven’t seen him in action yet, so where does he fit in?
Ogletree obviously has a leg up for that fifth spot, but that won’t last long once Coale takes the field against the St. Louis Rams in the Cowboys’ third exhibition. During the Cowboys’ practice with the Chargers on Monday, Coale showed superb route-running skills and created separation on his cuts, which is critical for him considering all the time he’s missed this off-season and preseason.
You can plan on Coale making the active roster unless he completely flops during either or both of the final exhibitions. While Ogletree shouldn’t be on the active roster, he likely will be considering how much time the Cowboys have invested in him.
So here’s how the Cowboys’ receiver list should look entering Week 1: Austin, Bryant, Holmes, Beasley and Coale. Here’s how it will likely look due to the unintelligence of Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and head coach Jason Garrett: Austin, Bryant, Ogletree, Holmes and Coale with Beasley on the practice squad. How do you think it should look? Rant below!