Cowboys vs Raiders: Looking At The Cowboys Wide Receiver Competition

Brian Bahr

The second preseason game for Dallas didn't turn out as well as the first on the scoreboard, but that is not the most important story in the pre-season. The competition for the backup jobs is one that is crucial. Here is a look at how the down-roster wide receivers did.

The Dallas Cowboys have four wide receiver positions that are generally considered to be roster locks. Dez Bryant is nearly unstoppable, Miles Austin is going to be a key player, Dwayne Harris would have to do something really bad to lose his job since he is also a prime returner on special teams, and Terrance Williams has that third round pick as a protection, plus he looked to be really coming on before being sidelined by a concussion.

The competition at receiver is going to be for the fifth and possibly sixth spot, depending on how many the team decides to keep on the final 53. My vote would be for six (see my latest roster projection), but last time I checked, Jason Garrett and Jerry Jones were still using my ballots on game decisions to line the cage for Fred the Monkey. Whichever way it turns out, there were some players making a move in the battle to get on the roster - not all in a positive direction. Here, based on my initial observations of the game against the Oakland Raiders, is how I think it is stacking up.

Getting close to a lock.

Cole Beasley was the best wide receiver not named Dez on the field against the Raiders. It wasn't just statistically, although his 3/49 line was right behind Bryant's 3/55. He was the player that had key catches, keeping one drive alive with a 23 yard catch on 3rd and 3, and getting one of the game highlights with a touchdown reception from a very crisp and efficient looking Kyle Orton. He is a real weapon out of the slot, finding open spots and seeming to get lost by the defenders due to his being the shortest guy on the field. He was also lining up as a kick returner, and had the longest return of the night, for 28 yards. With three pre-season games to come, he can't be said to have a spot locked up. But as a returning member of last year's 53, and with the way he is showing up, he is almost there. There was a bit of a scare when his foot was stepped on and he was taken to the locker room, but you can relax a bit.

He may miss some practice, but is likely to be back in the lineup for the next game.

Making a case for six.

The two double A's, Anthony Armstrong and Anthony Amos, both had good nights. Amos had two receptions for 20 yards and got close enough to the end zone on the first to get a challenge flag from Jason Garrett when he was ruled down inside the one. Although Dallas lost the challenge, it set up a Joseph Randle dive for a touchdown. He has not gotten as much attention as some of the other names in camp, but he made his mark.

Armstrong actually had a better night, despite only catching one pass, and if you are looking at the bigger picture, he appears to be just behind Beasley and ahead of the rest in the minds of the coaching staff. The wide receiver's job entails a lot more than just catching the ball, and on at least one Lance Dunbar run (Dunbar was the most effective of the Dallas runners in a game that saw them going back to the pass due to the game situation), he had a key block. He also was back with Beasley on one kickoff and fielded the ball when it bounced short, returning it 22 to give the Cowboys decent field position at their 29. And he was used as a gunner on at least one punt, getting downfield in a hurry. (I thought he got a tackle, but he is not credited with one in the NFL.com stats.) Those things, plus the fact he was used on special teams fairly early in the game, make me think the team is looking long and hard at him. He gave them some good things to look at.

Might have hurt themselves.

Other players had less effective nights. Tim Benford was targeted four times, but only came up with one catch, and on one incompletion he just looked awkward, as if he was not expecting the ball and could not get his body moving in the right direction. (In his defense, one of the targets was the poorly thrown interception from Nick Stephens that was more about a bad decision by the quarterback). He didn't really help himself.

Jared Green might have really hurt his chances. He had two receptions, but was targeted five times. The misses that, unfortunately for him, are going to stand out were on Dallas' last possession, when he twice had a chance to keep the drive going and did not come up with the ball. The last one clearly went off his hands, and even though it appeared to have been tipped, it was still a moment when he could have made the catch, and the team needed him to. He is going to have to work to overcome that bad impression.

Danny Coale saw his first real action of his NFL career. It was not impressive, and getting a holding penalty didn't do him any good. He is clearly still trying to overcome the effects of his injury and the goatmouth. (I am so sorry about my role in that, Danny.)

Eric Rogers, who has gotten a lot of good press, was rather invisible in the game. It may just have been the play selection and only having so many balls to spread around. But if Bill Callahan was deciding to go away from him, that is not good news. That, of course, I don't know. It just seems a bit worrisome, given the trajectory he seems to be on after such a hot start in camp.

Based on my perceptions, I would put both Beasley and Armstrong on the 53 as the fifth and sixth receivers, and as special teams contributors. Amos is now a leading practice squad candidate. The rest . . . well, they have three more games.

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