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Mailbag: Evaluating The Backups In Preseason; Leader For 5th Receiver Spot?

BRYAN WALSHMOUNT AIRY, MD
Watching the game vs. San Diego I couldn't help but feel for guys like Dustin Vaughan and Gus Johnson who are fighting to make the team but do not have the benefit of working with the starters. How can the coaches give a fair evaluation? What are they looking for that the average fan might be missing?

Bryan: That is always the balancing act you strive for and have to consider when studying your players. Where the coaches can get around this is through practice reps. Maybe Vaughan gets to take a snap or two with the first offense in team period. That allows him the opportunity of working against the first defense but also the benefit of taking snaps with Dez Bryant and Terrance Williams. Those are the snaps that the coaches will be focusing on.

Rob: Well, for the most part, they're also playing against the opponents' backups, but I understand the question. The coaches are looking for players who know what to do and carry out their assignments, regardless of who's lined up against them. Johnson did get to work with three of the five starting offensive linemen for a few plays against San Diego. It might be beneficial to see what Vaughan and Showers can do with the starters for part of practice or a preseason game, but Weeden needs the work as the direct backup to Tony Romo, too.

ERIC JOHNSON
AUSTIN, TX

I've been following the Cowboys' young receivers very closely this offseason and I'm very surprised that Harwell is not being mentioned more when it comes to that group. It appears from practices and even the game that his hands and route running are the most consistent of the rookies. With Devin Street as the fourth receiver, what chances do you give Harwell of making the team as the fifth receiver?

Bryan: I agree with you on what we have seen from Harwell and in talking to Derek Dooley about his progress – he has really liked what he has seen so far. I am not sure that if they only carry five that he can be that last one because it appears that is Whitehead's spot. I will say this about Nick Harwell: He has improved every practice and taken advantage of all his opportunities.

Rob:Would love to argue with Bryan, but Harwell has been the most consistent of the rookie/first-year wideouts. Reggie Dunn has strung together several good practices, as has Lucky Whitehead, whose return skills give him an edge. But you nailed it on the route running with Harwell. It's not always flashy, but he has looked very polished for an undrafted rookie receiver.

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