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20 Questions: Who Can Replace Special Teams Ace Dwayne Harris?
Despite completing four weeks of OTAs and mini-camp practices, several things remain unsettled for the Cowboys. When the team reports to training camp on July 28 in Oxnard, Calif., several questions still need answers.
The staff writers at DallasCowboys.com – Rob Phillips, David Helman, Nick Eatman and Bryan Broaddus – will attempt to answer these questions before the start of training camp.
Today, the staff begins the series trying to figure out how the Cowboys can replace Dwayne Harris on both special teams and offense.
20) How Do The Cowboys Replace Dwayne Harris on Special Teams?
Rob Phillips – This might be a collective effort. At backup receiver, the Cowboys are hopeful 2014 fifth-round pick Devin Street will earn more playing time. Dez Bryant’s absence from workouts meant first-team reps for Street, who has primarily worked on getting stronger this offseason. The club also has five undrafted rookies competing for a job (or two). Many of them returned kicks in college. Lucky Whitehead is probably the most electric returner of the group, and he flashed his quickness as a receiver in space during workouts. It remains to be seen if Whitehead or another guy can earn a spot doing both of Harris’ old duties. Could Cole Beasley be a situational returner, or is his offensive role too important now? Safety J.J. Wilcox is an interesting candidate – he fielded a few punts during OTAs, and remember, he was a skill position guy/returner in college.
David Helman: For all of his acumen as a returner, I’m tempted to think this team might miss Harris more in kick coverage than any other facet of his game. Harris averaged 11 yards per punt return and scored two touchdowns in 87 attempts – those numbers are good but replaceable. It seemed like he was always the first guy down the field to cover returns, however, and I’m guessing that’s why the Cowboys re-signed Danny McCray this spring. The hope is that Jeff Heath and possible McCray can make up for that lost production in coverage. I’d love to see Cole Beasley get a full-time shot at return duties, but his value as the No. 3 receiver might be too much to risk him to injury. The popular answer is Lucky Whitehead, but Reggie Dunn and Nick Harwell are also new faces who might be able to fill Harris’ shoes as a returner.
Nick Eatman: I think a question before this is how many guys it’ll take to replace Harris, who might be the only player I’ve ever seen with the Cowboys who contributed on three areas – return game, covering kicks and offense. Replacing Harris on offense won’t be too hard, but his return ability will be tough. Lucky Whitehead could possibly do the trick on punt returns, but he has to able to contribute in another way. Kick returns will likely be one of the backup running backs. And they signed guys like Danny McCray and Andrew Gachkar to help cover kicks. But the fact Harris did it all, probably saved them a few tough decisions before games when it comes to inactives. It’ll get covered but not likely with one player and maybe not even two.
Bryan Broaddus: There were over 1,500 Cowboys plays when you combine offensive and special teams snaps from a year ago. Of that total, Dwayne Harris had a hand in 450 of them. He was the club’s version of the Swiss Army Knife and Stunt Man. He was always prepared to do the job, no matter what it was or how dirty it was. It is likely that Lucky Whitehead has the best opportunity to fill in as that returner, but I am not sure he has the nastiness to be a cover man on kicks or the size to be a point-of-attack blocker in the running game. One player to keep an eye on is rookie Deontay Greenberry and the reason I say this is that I believe that this kid plays with a chip on his shoulder. There is some toughness to his game in regard to his attitude, and I am anxious to see if that carries over when the pads come on. We could also see some of his special teams slack be picked up by Byron Jones, Corey White or Danny McCray. The bottom line here is that it will most likely not be one guy that replaces Dwayne Harris. Read