Cowboys sort through roles for receivers without Dez Bryant
Offensive coordinator Scott Linehan said it’s more “when” than “if.”
“Right now, you guys have probably noticed, we’re moving guys around a lot,” Linehan said about a week into training camp in California. “That’s a positive, especially early and now. But the thing that’s gotta be improved upon is OK, when it gets down to crunch time, this is the guy, he’s a go-to player in this route or this play.”
“We’re making strides. But we’ve got to make strides here quickly,” he said.
The Cowboys don’t have a so-called No. 1 receiver after dumping Bryant, the franchise leader in touchdown receptions, in a cost-cutting move during the offseason. Cole Beasley, with 53 fewer career TDs (20), is the Dallas dean in a mix of holdovers, newcomers and rookies that lacks anyone even close to the pedigree of Bryant.
Before skipping a couple of practices with a mild leg issue, the 6-foot-1 Hurns was with the diminutive pair of fellow newcomer Tavon Austin and Beasley in three-receiver sets with the first team. Austin and Beasley, both listed at 5-8, are on the field a lot together.
“I’d rather see it as two fast, quick guys,” receivers coach Sanjay Lal said when asked about two small guys on the field at the same time. “Yes, an advantage I think.”
Hurns spent most of his four seasons with Jacksonville as an inside receiver but said his best year — the only 1,000-yard season among the dozen receivers the Cowboys brought to camp — came when he spent more time outside.
Austin, acquired in a trade with the Los Angeles Rams after five disappointing seasons as the eighth overall pick in 2013, had at least as many carries as catches three times in those five years. So there’s little question he will move around in formations. But he probably won’t be the only one moving around.
“The main thing for us, everybody needs to know all three positions and get comfortable at what you’ve got to do,” Hurns said. “Right now, no one has like a set position where you’re just inside or just outside.”
And Beasley tends to think it doesn’t matter.
“You’re still getting open and catching balls,” he said. “It’s about production, whether it’s from the inside or outside. Wes Welker led the league in receiving as a slot receiver. We’ve got tons of guys who can do both. If you’re a receiver, you’re playing all of them.”
Michael Gallup, the first receiver drafted by Dallas post-Bryant as a third-rounder, is the rookie most likely to get significant playing time. Sixth-round pick Cedrick Wilson is probably out for the season with a shoulder injury sustained on the first day in pads at camp.
The receiver best built for the outside is the easiest one to forget: 6-2, 210-pound Terrance Williams, Dallas’ third-round choice five years ago. After breaking his foot in January, the former Dallas high school player was arrested for public intoxication in May coming off the first season of his career without a touchdown.
Having recently settled all the claims with police in the Dallas suburb of Frisco, where the Cowboys have their headquarters, Williams is quietly trying to work his way into the rotation. Williams, who isn’t talking to reporters during camp, has been getting first-team work after starting out with the second group at camp.
“He’s worked really hard to come back from the injury,” coach Jason Garrett said. “He has been limited the whole time. We anticipated that. Hasn’t hit any roadblocks where he’s going backward.”
Williams isn’t alone in switching spots on the depth chart. The Cowboys have been doing that since the start of the offseason. And it’s not out of the question that it could continue into the regular season.
“That’s the one thing I like about the whole situation,” Austin said. “I don’t care who the one, two or three receiver is. The more people we’ve got, the faster we are.”
With the retirement of 15-year tight end Jason Witten, the Cowboys don’t have a pass-catcher in his 30s. The oldest — by two months over Beasley — is another newcomer in journeyman Deonte Thompson. From Linehan’s point of view, it’s a young group.
“Every day we’re learning something about our guys,” Linehan said. “Finding the balance is out here and the proof’s in what you’re able to do and how you’re able to perform when you’ve got a matchup and you’ve got to win that matchup. We’re finding who those guys are right now.”
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