In an increasingly pass-heavy NFL, it no longer seems responsible to appoint only two "starters" at wide receiver. On defense, the third cornerback can and should be considered a starter, given the number of snaps he'll likely play; I maintain that the third receiver should merit the same consideration for the offense. That said, Jason Garrett has demonstrated an affinity for formations employing two or more tight ends, and the return of TE/ F-Back John Phillips and drafting of Shaun Chapas, a guy with a similar profile, portends the continued deployment of heavy sets.
So, while whoever ends up being the third receiver will get his snaps, the Cowboys' third wideout may well get fewer plays that the third WR on other teams. Thus the question of who will be the number two guy takes on added importance (I feel pretty secure that, barring injury, Miles Austin will be the #1 WR). Unless Dwayne Harris makes a miraculous debut, or Kevin Ogletree suddenly blows up, the candidates for this position are quite clear: Roy Williams and Dez Bryant. Both have mixed games; they are big, physical players who have demonstrated the ability to make big plays, yet have notable limitations to their games.
Given these two names, most Cowboys fans would immediately promote Bryant to the starting position. This is in part because of Dez' brilliant game. Although he was limited by injuries last season, when he did play, he was often the best player on the field. He is huge, fast, athletic, and has a burning desire to succeed that is palpable when he's playing. It is this quality that endears him to Cowboys fans--and the apparent lack of this quality that condemns Williams in their eyes. Roy has repeatedly angered Cowboys Nation not only by making crucial mistakes, but--and this is the unforgivable sin--seeming not to care immediately afterward. How, we ask, can a man smile or laugh after that crucial, game-turning fumble against New Orleans?
Furthermore, Williams isn't particularly proficient at running the entire route tree. He is tall and long-legged, which allows him to cover a lot of ground when he gets up to speed. At the same time, he's top heavy and doesn't sink his hips when making cuts, so he ends up getting in and out of them slowly and awkwardly. As a result, he's rarely open on change-of-direction routes like curls and hitches--and when he is open, its not by much. To compound this, Williams has inconsistent hands, especially when he's on the move or in close quarters.
Bryant is also limited in what patterns he can run, but for very different reasons. His technique is spotty; like Williams he doesn't always sink his hips on cuts. More importantly, however, he doesn't really know the offense. Late last season, reports began to surface that he Dez didn't always know where he was supposed to be--that he was getting by largely on his rare athletic talent. In fact, one of the reasons given for the decision to can Ray Sherman and hire Jimmy Robinson to coach wide receivers coach was that Robinson wouldn't give Bryant the leeway that he had been give by Sherman.
If I'm Jason Garret or Tony Romo (I am neither, sadly), I have to be intrigued by Bryant's talent (who wouldn't be?), but unsure whether or not I can trust a guy known to have a propensity for free-styling to be where the play needs him to be. Certainly, Robinson should help with this--his mantra at all of his coaching stops has been "play within the structure of the offense." In this truncated offseason, will Bryant have enough time with Coach Jimmy to ingest that mantra and make it his own? If not, can he be trusted on a key 3rd and 10?
Enter the conundrum: is it better to go with the known, albeit somewhat limited quantity (at least Romo will know where Williams will be, even if he's not open when he gets there), or the combination of uncertainty and upside? Some combination thereof? In an offense that will almost certainly have a better offensive line (and--we hope--as a consequence, a better running attack), which constellation of strengths and weaknesses do you want in your #2 wideout?
What say you, BTB Nation? Weigh in in the comments section below.