By now we've all heard the news: Danny Coale, the heir apparent to the third receiver position (if there is such a thing), has a broken foot that requires surgery.
Rather than continue to lament this irreversible fact, let's examine the potential bright spots within this dark cloud. The mentality Garrett has been establishing on this team is "Next Man Up." When someone gets injured, the guy or guys behind him are expected to step into his role and do their jobs. No mistakes. No excuses.
So, who's the next man up? Tim Benford. And if you haven't taken notice, have a seat. Benford has everything it takes to be a legitimate option as a slot receiver.
Despite the injury to Coale, hearing it was a productive day for the receivers this morning. Dez and Miles but UDFA Tim Benford as well.— Bryan Broaddus (@BryanBroaddus) May 22, 2012
That about contextualizes things. Of the receivers, the top three performers were Miles, Dez, and none other than Tim Benford. As you'll see after the break, this isn't the first recognition the former All-American receiver out of Tennessee Tech has received from the Cowboys.A number of you may recall OCC's piece on the UDFA's signing bonuses. A quick scan of the page will show that Benford did not receive any signing bonus. Essentially, it appears that he wasn't a priority free agent. Saalim Hakim, Cole Beasley, and Donavon Kemp each received bonuses, also at the receiver position.
So what makes Benford so special, if the Cowboys didn't even offer him a signing bonus?
If I may call your attention to another fine article by OCC, he explains how Ronald Leary's deal was made to circumvent the cap on guaranteed moneys given to UDFAs in the form of signing bonuses.
Over at CowboysZone, AdamJT13 has furnished a list of total guaranteed money for the entire UDFA class. Who sits behind Leary's massive $214,000 in guarantees? None other than Tim Benford, who will receive a $20,000 parting gift should the team decide to cut him. (For sake of comparison, the highly touted Saalim Hakim received a total of $17,500 in guarantees, including his $10,000 signing bonus). The Cowboys have clearly seen something they like in Benford.
And a large part of that reason is likely about his college production and playmaking ability, as rabblerousr summarized a couple of weeks ago:
Benford was named the Ohio Valley Conference's 2011 Offensive Player of the Year after hauling in 65 receptions for 923 yards. This capped a productive, consistent four-year collegiate career in which he amassed 216 receptions for 3,097 yards and 26 touchdowns and was the first wideout to receive all-Conference honors three years running. This was enough to gain him an invitation to the East-West Shrine Game, where we was a standout in practices and performed well in the game.
Tennessee Tech Coach Watson Brown, who coached Atlanta Falcons receiver Roddy White when both were at UAB, sees some similarities between the two players' games. Benford is a smooth athlete who runs good routes. He's more quick than fast (although he does have some wheels; he notched a 4.48 forty at his pro day), using sharp footwork to separate out of breaks. He is adept at finding soft spots in zone coverage. And once he's made the catch, Benford can do some damage. At 5'11", 205, he's built like a running back, and can use his bulk to break tackles and "rack some YAC."
To top it all off, he's an RKG (Are you surprised?): scouting reports characterize him as a "humble player with a good head on his shoulders"; indeed, Benford is an honor roll student and has earned a reputation as an extremely hard worker.
Benford also made a good impression on the second day of the rookie minicamp, gaining some praise from Bryan Broaddus in his Scout's Eye series:
On tape you see a talented player that was a good route runner, that knows how to separate but when asked to catch the ball in traffic can make the clutch catch. In the morning practice Benford ran a curl route on Mario Butler that was text book with Butler still in close contact in coverage. The ball was delivered to the far right of Benford but he was able to adjust his body and grab the ball out of the air with ease.
Later in the period, Benford beat Isaac Madison off the jam and takes off vertical, Benford gaining separation on the speedy Madison turns to look for the ball but Larry Smith throws the ball in a spot where Benford has no chance to grab it thus resulting in an incomplete.
In the afternoon practice Benford was able to run an "in" route sitting down in the zone giving his quarterback an easy throw for a completion.
These are the things you want to hear about a prospective third receiver. He runs good routes. He adjusts to the ball. He makes tough catches. The rest of it - the athleticism, the deep speed - is just gravy.
Oh, and did I mention that he really wanted to be a Cowboy?
I was like, ‘Yeah.’ I’ve always wanted to be on America’s Team," Benford said. "That’s who I was brought up watching in my household. It’s a dream come true. Now, I’ve just got to get better every day and keep working to try to get on the team.
So take some time off from mourning the brief loss of Danny Coale, and take a look at some of the other guys we've got here. The race for the third, fourth, and fifth wide receiver positions is anything but over, and even with Coale temporarily sidelined, there are quite of number of interesting prospects left.
The question now is, could Tim Benford be a new favorite for slot receiver, or is he just a substitute-pet cat?