IRVING, Texas –The Cowboys have five rookie free agent receivers competing for perhaps one job: the roster spot left by backup receiver/kick and punt returner Dwayne Harris, now with the Giants.
Cole Beasley knows the feeling.
An undrafted long shot who actually left the Cowboys briefly during training camp in 2012, Beasley decided football was what he wanted, returned after a two-day sabbatical and made the final roster with a team-high 10 catches and 144 yards in preseason.
"Really it's all about seizing the opportunity," Beasley said. "If you get a chance you've got to take advantage of it. My rookie year I was inactive for a lot of games and when I was active I'd get about four plays a game. I'd get a ball (thrown my way) and if I didn't take advantage of that I'd probably be cut right now."
Many doubted Beasley's NFL future at 5-foot-8, 180 pounds, but he's become a safety valve for quarterback Tony Romo out of the slot. Following a career-best four touchdown catches in 2014, Beasley signed a four-year, $13.6 million extension in March.
The Cowboys have a history of molding undrafted receivers into a contributors. Before Beasley, Miles Austin and Sam Hurd impressed head coach Bill Parcells enough to earn roster spots.
This year's crop – Lucky Whitehead, Deontay Greenberry, George Farmer, Nick Harwell and Antwan Goodley – are trying to do the same. The Cowboys also signed former first-round pick A.J. Jenkins to the roster for depth with franchised All-Pro wideout Dez Bryant mostly skipping voluntary workouts.
Whitehead, also 5-8, mentioned Beasley's development as one reason he signed with Dallas after the draft.
In addition to backup receiver duties, the Cowboys also must replace Harris' return role. Beasley himself might be a candidate, having caught preseason punts the last three years, but his offensive role has progressively become more defined and more valuable. Most of the rookie free agents have taken return reps in workouts.
The biggest challenge as an undrafted guy, Beasley recalls, is maximizing scarce opportunities without pressing too much.
"You don't know what to expect, you've never played at this level before, so it's real tough," Beasley said. "But you've really just got to grind and take advantage of your moments."
Beasley did three years ago. Who will this year?