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Auping: After Dez Fumble; Time For New Return Man On Punts

IRVING, Texas - Shaky hands. Easily distracted. Tries to do too much. 

These words have all been used to describe Dez Bryant at one point or another this season. Perhaps they are overstatements, but Bryant has at least made enough mistakes for them to come up. Now let me ask you a question, are these the types of qualities you want for your punt returner? 

Bryant has been the primary punt returner since the opening game mainly because of his almost unnatural athletic abilities. But I believe it may be time to officially hand the torch to someone else. Bryant has not shown the consistency or the level headedness to remain at the position. 

Bryant's lack of focus caught up to him on Sunday against the Giants as he managed to fumble twice on one punt return before the ball was eventually recovered by the Giants punting team. The recovery and subsequent field position allowed the Giants to extend their lead with a field goal.

After the fumble Bryant was replaced as the punt returner, primarily by Dwayne Harris. Look for the Cowboys to consider making this a permanent adjustment.

On Harris' only opportunity to run with a punt return he took it for 14 yards, the longest of the day for the Cowboys. Cole Beasley was also used as a punt returner in the fourth quarter, but was forced to fair catch his only opportunity. 

Bryant was inserted back deep in the final minute of the game when the Giants punted the ball back, but the ball went out of bounds for no return. 

When asked on Monday about the possible full-time switch, head coach Jason Garrett didn't talk much about the personnel moves but reiterated the frustration with Sunday's key fumble, which led to a Giants field goal. 

"I don't want to make any definitive statements about how we're going to use guys," Garrett said. "Certainly, the play he had (Sunday) in the ballgame was not a good play for our football team. That obviously changed the field position. They were on the minus-19 to get the ball on the plus-15 is a huge swing. We've got to take care of the football on offense. We've got to go get the ball on defense. And we certainly have to do that on special teams as well. That was not a good play for us." 

There are plenty of Cowboy fans who probably have an extra grey hair or two as a result of Dez Bryant. This season he has shown flashes of athletic and physical greatness, but he has also had some critical drops and lapses in judgment. 

To say that Bryant is constantly distracted would be unfair, as we do not know what is actually going on in his head, but it would probably be fair to call him unpredictable. And unpredictable may not be the word you want to describe a guy that can single handedly affect your field position. 

In the Cowboys victory over the Carolina Panthers, Bryant put that unpredictability on display by seemingly refusing to call fair catches as defenders fast approached him. The decisions seemed to show a level of impatience and a need to make a play, whether it was safe or not. In seven games the Cowboys have called seven fair catches. 

Bryant's willingness to return a punt that should probably be fair caught is not only a turnover risk, but increases the chances that he will become injured. There are few times when a player is more vulnerable than when he is staring up waiting for a ball to fall into his arms with defenders bee-lining towards him at full speed. Bryant is a crucial part of the Cowboys' offense and losing him to an injury on a punt return would not only be devastating, but also unnecessary. 

Bryant's potential as a big-time playmaker is well documented. And perhaps if the Cowboys were rewarded with long returns on a more consistent basis then it would be worth the risk. But Dallas ranks last in the NFL in average yards per punt return at 5.5. This stat factors in a 44-yard return by Bryant in the victory over Tampa Bay. 

Choosing to utilize one of your best players as a punt returner is always a risky proposition considering the additional opportunity for injury. But it is a risk that is worth it if the player is rewarding your team with advantageous field position. But with Bryant as the primary punt returner, Dallas' results are the worst in the NFL. Combine that with the fact that Bryant is actually putting the team at risk with strange decisions and fumbles and it seems like it is time for a permanent change. 

The Cowboys have clearly seen something in Dwayne Harris for quite some time now. In a preseason game against the Rams this year Harris at least proved that he has speed and big play potential when he accumulated 118 yards and two touchdowns off of a couple deep bombs from Tony Romo. 

Bryant will still have plenty of opportunities to make huge plays for the Cowboys even if he stays away from special teams for a while.

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