OXNARD, Calif. — Dallas Cowboys tight end Jason Witten has delivered a stern “shut up and play” message in this training camp. Obviously, owner Jerry Jones hasn’t gotten the message.
Since his now-infamous “glory hole” news conference during which he was caught flat-footed on Dez Bryant questions, Jones has been in rare form. On Thursday, he posed for a couple of pictures with fans and then held court with the Cowboys press corps.
Earlier in the afternoon, reports surfaced the Cowboys were in preliminary discussions with free-agent wide receiver Plaxico Burress. Jones’ son, Stephen, had fanned the flames by admitting in a radio interview with Tyler, Texas’, KTBB 92.1 that the organization would be open to that discussion if one of the young receivers doesn’t emerge. Only a couple hours later, Jerry was blowing that talk out of the water.
“We haven’t discussed that internally at all,” Jones said of Burress. “We have not looked at him or thought about him.”
It remains to be seen whether Jones was being truthful, but he certainly sounds like a guy who’s prepared to begin the season with unproven receivers at the third and fourth spots. And the situation’s even more unsettling because starter Miles Austin is battling a hamstring injury. He will soon begin working with resistance cords, which is normally the sign that a player’s almost ready to return to practice.
Austin was undermined by hamstring issues throughout the 2011 season, so it would’ve made sense to sign a veteran free agent this past offseason. Now, the Cowboys are choosing from a group of undrafted players from noted football factories such as Tennessee Tech and Hillsdale College. I attribute the Cowboys’ lack of worry to the fact they’ve hit on unheralded players such as Austin and Laurent Robinson in the recent past. There’s also the thought that Witten functions almost like a wide receiver and that DeMarco Murray will play a significant role in the passing game. Still, the Cowboys are leaving themselves remarkably thin at wide receiver.
Jones explained Thursday that he’s using the “Ben Franklin procedure” to determine young receivers make the team. And I’m sure that sentence alone puts all Cowboys fans at ease. Jones says this procedure involves taking a sheet of paper (or laptop) and listing the “plus” and “minuses” for each respective player. He listed several of the attributes of each young receiver and said that Tim Benford out of Tennessee Tech reminded him “a little bit” of Robinson.
“All of these guys have a chance to do something,” said Jones, who seems to have a comfort level with heading into the regular season with question marks at this position.
I’ve heard several folks at camp mention that Burress would be a bad fit because he might “poison” a young receiver such as Dez Bryant. But you won’t find anyone who played for the New York Giants who calls Burress a bad teammate. He’s a guy who shot himself in the leg with a firearm in a New York nightclub, and he paid for it dearly.
But the Cowboys will only turn to Burress if none of the young receivers emerge during the preseason. A source within the organization told FOXSportsSouthwest.com on Thursday that Benford had emerged as the leading candidate for the third wide receiver role and that former sixth-round pick Dwayne Harris and Andre Holmes (from Hillsdale) are second and third. Jason Garrett has been complimentary of Kevin Ogletree in this camp, but the former Virginia wide receiver doesn’t perform on a consistent basis. He’s been handed numerous opportunities in the past, and I sense the organization’s finally prepared to part ways with him. Of course, he’s the only candidate with valuable experience.
This year’s fifth-round pick Danny Coale returned to practice earlier this week after recovering from a broken foot. He has a lot of catching up to do, but he’ll get his shot during the preseason (Garrett doesn’t expect him to play Monday). Other teams such as the Baltimore Ravens were high on Coale leading up to the draft, so that’s a good sign.
For now, this Burress thing is probably being driven by his agent, Drew Rosenhaus. But despite what Jones said, it shouldn’t be ruled out as a fallback option.
In the meantime, Jerry will continue to lean on his favorite founding father.