With the departure of Roy Williams, many have penciled Kevin Ogletree in as the third wide receiver on the depth chart. However, his performance at practice this week has been disturbingly reminiscent of last year, when he did not seem to do much to establish himself as a reliable option for Tony Romo. Dropped passes are not the kind of thing to inspire faith among the coaches. Now rookie Dwayne Harris has drawn a lot of attention with his 5 catches for 127 yards and two touchdowns in the first preseason game.
The third wide receiver spot on the Cowboys is really the fourth option in the passing game, thanks to the presence of Jason Witten. It is the player that will spell Miles Austin and Dez Bryant, and also will be used in the occasional three receiver formation. But the real importance is to be the backup should Miles or Dez be unable to go. I hate to even allude to the "i" word, but there has to be a plan for one of them missing a start. Here is a look at the decision that the coaches need to make as the preseason continues.
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Ogletree was doing well the first two weeks of camp. Reports seemed to be good on him. Meanwhile, the concerns with the offensive line and the defensive backfield sucked up most of the attention. In the Broncos game, he caught 2 balls for 22 yards, which was not bad, although he and everyone else was overshadowed by the surprising night Harris had.
The most disturbing thing was his lackluster day on Tuesday, when he only caught one ball and dropped three. And these were passes from Tony Romo. Not only was he giving the coaches reason to doubt him, but he was showing the starting quarterback that he might not be a trusted target. There have been some accusations that Tony tends to really favor the receivers he trusts *cough* according to T.O. *cough* and this kind of performance would not bode well if there is any truth to that. This is something that can be overcome with solid work during the rest of the preseason, but at this point it is on his shoulders.
History is not in his favor. Last year, he also had a good start, and then faded into the woodwork. I am not sure how tolerant Jason Garrett is on this. Is he going to be patient and give Kevin a chance to work through his issues, or is he likely to start giving Harris the first team chances? I don't know, but Kevin better get his game together fast just to be safe.
Harris is attractive. Caution must be used in evaluating him on one preseason game against a bunch of other backups and scrubs, but those numbers still stand out. There are people who question his speed, but he certainly had something to cut loose on that exciting 76 yard TD. I read a comment on another article (I haven't been able to track it down so I apologize to whoever made it) that compared him to Wes Welker, who has never been called the fastest guy on the field. Welker is the OCC of receivers. You don't know exactly how he does it, but he does his job with great precision and superb efficiency, and you underestimate him at your peril. If (a very big word that) Harris has that kind of potential, he could become a potent weapon for the Cowboys.
Of course, the big problem is that he is a rookie. Relying on rookie receivers can be a dangerous option, not everybody is Dez Bryant from last year.
There is always the outside chance that another receiver will step up, but I think that is a real long shot. Right now, the fifth receiver, assuming they keep five total, is almost certainly to be a special teams body, and that race is wide open.
Once again, I find myself seething at the impact of the suckage of the lockout on the Cowboys. If the team had been able to work Harris and Ogletree during a normal offseason, this might be a much more settled situation. But they didn't. The situation is what it is, to coin a phrase, and now the team has to figure out who is going to become the primary backup for the first two receivers. I certainly don't see a clear favorite this early in the preseason.
It's just one more thing to watch for on Sunday.