During the rather dismal 2011 regular season for the Dallas Cowboys, there were a couple of really good stories. One of the biggest was the sudden emergence of Laurent Robinson as a very good wide receiver. The journeyman free agent, who barely made the team after being signed, cut, and then signed again, developed an immediate chemistry with quarterback Tony Romo. He provided a much needed third receiving option, and on several occasions showed he could fill in quite well as number two. His 858 yards and 11 touchdowns will be very missed now that he has cashed in on his season to get a big contract with the Jacksonville Jaguars.
This leaves the Cowboys looking to fill out the wide receiving corps behind Miles Austin and Dez Bryant. They are the only two givens on the current roster, and both have had some injury issues in the past, so the team badly needs to find not only someone who can be the third receiver, but also a fourth option for when one of the players ahead of him gets banged up, which is pretty much inevitable during the long NFL season.
In addition to having to impress the coaching staff and management (this is the Cowboys, after all, and Jerry Jones still likes to have his hand in things), the group of competitors for the three or four remaining receiver slots also need to work on that rapport with the quarterback. I would imagine that this is one camp battle where the coaches will seek some input from Tony and backup QB Kyle Orton on who they feel is the best option.
Things Tony had to say about this after the jump.
Tony was asked about the situation and is not leaning toward anyone in particular at this point, as reported by Tim MacMahon at ESPN Dallas.
"We want somebody to come in and grab that spot," Romo said during the first week of OTAs. "Guys have got to work their butt off. They've got to develop a rapport with me and they've got to know the offense. When they do that, they'll have a great chance, because we've got some guys who have some ability in this room."
The only experienced contender for the job is Kevin Ogletree, a player who has not exactly shown an overwhelming ablilty to find that rapport thing. It was his lack of the same that opened the door for Robinson last season. Now, he is back and has just officially signed his one year deal, which was announced some time ago. He is claiming that this year is going to be his, but he has not really convinced that many people, including our own Archie Barberio, who made this observation in his own in-depth look at the Tree.
Frankly I was surprised the Cowboys decided to re-sign Ogletree this offseason. After two consecutive lackluster seasons, I felt that the front office would not retain him. The Cowboys made Ogletree one of their last free agent signings. Perhaps some in the organization still believe in the young man, but I have my doubts to whether Ogletree will ever become a reliable wide receiver in the NFL.
While his time on the team and game experience, however limited, would seem to give him an advantage, I suspect his history of underachieving is actually working against him. He has more to prove, in a sense, than the new guys. It remains to be seen whether he will finally live up to his athletic abililty, or if he is going to be another version of Martellus Bennett.
There is one name among the many untried young contenders that is getting a lot of buzz within the organization. The nearly invisible small college product Andre Holmes has been talked up by no less a figure than Jerry Jones, and got a very nice puff piece done on him at the mothership by Mickey Spagnola.
His name keeps coming up.
Cowboys owner Jerry Jones started even before the draft, causing many an eyebrow to arch out of curiosity at the time.
And telling you, there have been many a roster turned the past few days while watching the first week of OTA workouts at The Ranch, trying to figure out just who is that No. 15 making several tough and impressive catches.
Why, that's Andre Holmes.
This product of Hillsdale College, not exactly a major football factory, only played high school football his senior year. But he combines track star speed (his main sport at the high school level) with a 6'5", 208 pound frame. And the owner/GM is not the only Dallas decision maker who has a good thing to say about him.
"Andre is a guy we actually liked coming out of school," Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett said, remembering back to last year. "He's a small school guy, big kid, but he's talented - and explosive, a guy who goes and gets the football.
"And he's a mature route runner for as much experience that he has ... a guy the quarterbacks like to throw to."
There's that quarterback connection again. The way JG put it, it sounds like he is already getting feedback from the passers. I would guess that he listens a little more closely to Tony than to the other guys when he solicits that input. And basically having positive propaganda being put out by the official state-run media of the Cowboys would indicate that Holmes is one of the early leaders in the chase for the roster spots.
The flip side is that injured rookie Danny Coale, who many (like me) had picked as a pet cat, is missing out on his chance to get some of that rapport established. Having to sit out the OTAs and the minicamp coming up is putting him behind his competition, something some of the other players, like UDFA Tim Benford, may be able to take advantage of. However, if Coale has the hands and the ability to get open that he has been reported to have, he still has a chance to come in and make the kind of instant connection that Robinson made last year.
But all of the contenders to claim one of the wide receiver slots have the same task: They have to show the coaches that they can do the job. This will mean working well with Romo, Orton, and even the other quarterbacks in camp. With the names mentioned above plus Raymond Radway (who was soooo close to making the team last year), Cole Beasley, Saalim Hakim, Dwayne Harris, and Donovan Kemp all fighting to make the team, this is a fight where one bad practice, or even one bad play, may be the difference. And these guys should be fighting for a chance to return kicks and punts, and cover them as well. Unless some of the players pull away, and I don't expect that, the last wide receiver position is going to be one of the hardest calls the coaches have to make. Every play these guys run in practice, and every chance they get to make a case on special teams, is important.
And if Tony Romo wants someone to carry his pads, I bet there will be a bunch of volunteers.