IRVING, Texas - For the last few seasons, the Cowboys had one of the more versatile players in club history. Now, he's a rival.
That's the world of the NFL, where a player can be an integral part of a team one year, and then trying to beat you the next.
After four seasons of reaping the benefits of Dwayne Harris' all-around game, the Cowboys will now try to stop him as he is a featured return specialist and contributor on offense for the Giants, who come to town for Sunday's Week 1 showdown at AT&T Stadium.
The Cowboys have yet to officially announce their kick returners this week. Cole Beasley has been the primary punt returner and even said Thursday he expected to handle the duties this week. Rookie Lucky Whitehead has also received plenty of reps and could get some spot duty. Whitehead has also returned kickoffs in the preseason, but the Cowboys could lean toward running back Lance Dunbar.
Make no mistake, Harris' value has been felt this year as the Cowboys have needed multiple players to replace his departure.
Harris, a sixth-round pick of the Cowboys in 2011, left the team as the franchise leader with a kick-return average of 26.5 yards. He is tied for second all time in punt returns with an 11.1 yard average and figures to give the Giants a lift in their return game this season. As an unrestricted free agent last spring, Harris signed a five-year, $17.5 million contract with the Giants.
"Dwayne's a really good football player, and has been for our team," Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett said on Thursday. "He had the opportunity to go to the Giants and he took advantage of that. Now, he's on the other side."
Garrett pointed out Harris is just as dangerous without the football, becoming a skilled special teams player in the coverage units.
"He was one of our best cover guys, on top of all the plays that he made as a returner," Garrett said. "He brought a lot of the right kind of identity to our special teams units. He's a damn good football player. We recognize his contributions for us, and we recognize what he's going to do for the Giants. We have a great respect for him."
With Victor Cruz likely out this week for the Giants' offense, Harris could become a factor in the receiving game as well. With the Cowboys, Harris had 33 catches the last three years, but his catch total dropped every season from 17 in 2012, to nine in 2013 and just seven last year.
But when it comes to versatility, his new quarterback sees the value Harris brings to the Giants.[embeddedad0]
"Hopefully, he gives us that edge on special teams, and he can get us good field position and break some long ones," Harris said. "But he's done a good job at receiver, and he's had to play a good bit during training camp and a lot in the slot. (We're) trying to get the ball in his hands in the open field and see if he can make some plays for us."