Beasley: "I Always Felt Like I Belonged" At NFL Level

OXNARD, Calif. – You come to an interesting conclusion when you watch the crowd of cameras descend on Cole Beasley at the Cowboys' practice fields.

This isn't something Beasley, or his coaches, would want to hear in the "improving every day" world of an NFL training camp. But for perhaps the first time in his four-year career, Beasley is a man with a clear-cut role for the Cowboys – and therefore a little bit of job security.

There's any number of indicators of that fact. You can look back to his fantastic finish to 2014, when he logged 378 of his 521 receiving yards – not to mention all four of his touchdowns – in the final eight games of the season. There's the fact that his role has improved in each of his three seasons with the team.

"I think he's certainly made a lot of progress – he's made a ton of plays for us over his career," said Cowboys coach Jason Garrett.

There's also the real numbers – the kinds that don't lie. That'd be the four-year, $13.6 million contract Beasley signed in the spring to stay on in Dallas.

"Getting the opportunity to play for another four years here was exceptional," he said. "It's hard to pass up an opportunity like that."

It's got to be gratifying for Beasley to see his hard work coming to fruition, especially given his status as a long shot. There's no shortage of people that bet against the 5-8 receiver making the Cowboys roster as an undrafted free agent back in 2012 – or in his second camp in 2013, for that matter.

"Obviously undersized and looks like the paper boy coming in – despite the beard that he has," Garrett said. "But right from the start of his rookie minicamp, he was someone who showed up to us, and you could tell he just had a good feel and instinct for playing, very quarterback friendly, makes a lot of little plays, makes a lot of big plays – just has a knack for playing the game."  

After three seasons, people outside the organization might finally be coming around to that conclusion. Despite that, the 26-year-old said that perception, or lack thereof, does nothing to affect his mindset.

"To me, I've always felt like I belonged," he said. "Obviously, the more you play, the more comfortable you get. But I've never felt like I couldn't play at the NFL level. I've always felt like I could do things that other guys might not be able to do."

His stellar play so far in training camp is evidence of that. Beasley's fellow wide out, Dez Bryant, is always going to draw attention – and rightfully so. But it doesn't change the fact that Cowboys defensive backs have been largely unable to handle Beasley in the four padded practices to this point in camp.

"He's had our trust for a long time. He's caught a lot of big passes for us, converted a lot of big third downs for us over the last couple of years," Garrett said. "He's someone that we really, really believe in and I think that's very justified with his performance."

Training camp will help determine just what that performance will entail in 2015. Beasley is obviously the Cowboys' top option in the slot, but he's also getting a look as the team's punt returner – among other responsibilities.

"I'm just here to do whatever they ask of me," he said. "If they need me to play any role, I'm willing to do so – whether it's catching punts, catching in the slot or even going some outside. Whatever they ask, I'll do."

However that plays out over the next month, it's clear that the Cowboys do in fact have a large role in mind for Beasley – which wasn't always a given. Based on the early returns, that knowledge doesn't seem to satisfy him, but push him harder.

"People really kind of put me below other people, I guess? And that's what drives me," he said. "I knew I wasn't going to get drafted, I knew nobody expected anything from me, and that's what keeps a chip on my shoulder and keeps me grinding."

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