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10 Answers: How Did The Cowboys Replace Harris On Special Teams?

(Editor's Note: Last summer, the staff attempted to answer 20 questions about the Cowboys' roster leading into training camp. With the 2015 season complete, we're picking out the 10 best and most applicable questions and reviewing how our predictions fared.)

10) How Did The Cowboys Replace Dwayne Harris On Special Teams?

Bryan: I have to admit that I expected more from Lucky Whitehead coming out of the 2015 NFL Draft as far as a returner. His film at Florida Atlantic was outstanding, and when they were able to sign him, I thought that they had their replacement for Dwayne Harris. Whitehead was every bit as dynamic and explosive as Harris, but what I didn't expect was to see him struggle like he did securing the ball -- which wasn't a problem in college. There were times where he just did not look comfortable at all getting himself in position to make the catch which led to some unsure moments. It got to the point where I could understand why the coaching staff felt it necessary to go with other options early in the season. It was only until he began to catch the ball cleaner that the coaches felt it necessary to give him more opportunities with favorable results. Where this special teams unit really missed Harris was on the coverage aspect. There was not a player that was able to play as a gunner on the punt team and be a difference maker on the kick off as him.   

Nick: It's hard to replace everything Harris did for this team, but his biggest contribution was in the return game. Personally, I think the Cowboys will be in good shape with Lucky Whitehead. Maybe it's the hair, but I've always thought Whitehead could develop into a similar role as Harris, at least on offense and in the return game. As for Harris' coverage skills, the Cowboys really didn't get anyone to fulfill that role.

Rob: One game (specifically, one play) doesn't define the entire season, but Harris' 100-yard kickoff return in the fourth quarter of Week 7 – the deciding touchdown in the Giants' 27-20 win over the Cowboys – summarized the special teams skills he brought from Dallas to New York. He made a game-changing play with the ball in his hands, and the Cowboys' coverage team couldn't stop him. Before the season, I thought Lucky Whitehead would eventually step into Harris' return role, and he showed flashes, like the 46-yard return that set up the Cowboys' winning field goal against the Redskins in Week 13. Whitehead averaged 29.4 yards on kickoff returns, and he and Cole Beasley collectively averaged 6.0 yards on punt returns. (Harris had respective averages of 24.7 and 9.2 yards in 2014.) Harris' biggest impact as a Cowboy might have been in coverage, though, where he led the team with 18 tackles in 2014. The Cowboys didn't have a double-digit tackler in 2015 – three players tied for the lead with 8, and two of those players, Jeff Heath and Kyle Wilber, now have expiring contracts.

David: Back in the summer, I thought the Cowboys would be just fine using Cole Beasley and Lucky Whitehead to cover the loss of Dwayne Harris. Well, both players got a shot – and the results were less than ideal. I think it's fair to say that Whitehead grew into the role as a return man as the season went on, but he only averaged six yards per attempt as a punt returner. In the same vein, the Cowboys never found a coverage player as consistent as Harris used to be, and I thought their special teams suffered as a whole because of it. I don't have a problem with Whitehead going forward, but I certainly hope the Cowboys give him some competition heading into training camp. You look around the league at players like Tyler Lockett, who the Seahawks drafted in the third round just last year, and there's no doubt in my mind this is a spot the team could improve – either in free agency or the draft.

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