OXNARD, Calif. – There has been a lot of talk among fans and media about the Cowboys adding a veteran wide receiver. But the combination of Kevin Ogletree filling in for Miles Austin, who is suffering from a minor hamstring injury, and Jason Garrett's glowing statements about Ogletree's maturation this season might indicate that the Cowboys' third receiver will end up being a familiar face.
With Austin nursing his hamstring, Ogletree has been given the bulk of Austin's first-team reps. The fourth year wideout has been attempting to find a consistent role in the offense since he was picked up by the Cowboys as an undrafted free agent in 2009.
Last season Ogletree had fifteen receptions for 294 yards in fourteen games. With Austin and Dez Bryant set as the top two receivers on the team, Ogletree has a leg up on some of the younger pass catchers in the competition for the third spot because of his experience with the Cowboys.
While Ogletree is aware that Austin's starting spot will be waiting for him when he returns, he is doing his best to take advantage of the extra reps.
"It's just a chance to lock in on assignments because you know you'll be in there more," says Ogletree. "I get a couple of extra plays to make an impression."
Head coach Jason Garrett spoke about his excitement over Ogletree's potential this training camp to showcase his capabilities.
"Kevin's an experienced player," says Garrett. "He's always been a guy who has tried to get better as a player. He's very talented. One of Kevin's real strengths is that he can play both outside and inside. He has the ability, the speed and the size to play outside, but he also has the feel as a route runner to play inside."
It is easy to become impatient with players at skill positions and expect to see immediate results and eye-popping talent, but more often than not, young players at wide receiver often need time to progress in the NFL. Little was expected of Ogletree when he was picked up by the Cowboys out of Virginia, but he has remained on the team because he has shown great flashes of speed and route-running ability. For him, it is all about his need to keep learning and working to become a consistent figure in the offense.
"He needs more snaps like everybody else does," says Garrett. "He's doing a better job making some contested catches. We like his progress up to this point. … We are trying to teach him to do things the right way."
Ogletree relates similar sentiments about himself.
"I'm doing the best job I can do. I'm trying to get better every day and learn something every day about what it's going to take to get that spot I want and help this team."
Tight ends coach and passing game coordinator John Garrett has not only coached Ogletree on the Cowboys, but also coached him at the University of Virginia where he was the wide receivers coach until 2007. He spoke about his belief that Ogletree could be a great fit as the third option in the Cowboys' receiving core.
"He's certainly capable and that's why we re-signed him," says John Garrett. "He's made some really good plays for us in critical game situations. It's been made clear to him that we really expect him to continue to improve and embrace that role as the third receiver."
As someone who has coached Ogletree as far back as 2005, John Garrett also knows what his best assets are as a player.
"He has one trait that is really necessary and important for a wide receiver and that's that he can get away from press coverage," says Garrett. "That trait is really what separates the sheep from the goats. He's been able to gain separation from defensive backs in press."
Jason Garrett spoke about a newfound work ethic and maturation that he has seen from Ogletree this offseason. It would seem that in order for him to make a contribution to the offense he will have to commit and dedicate himself to constantly improving every aspect of his game. Recently, Ogletree has shown that dedication and Garrett hinted that it might have something to do with an unfortunate situation that happened earlier this year.
In January, Ogletree's 25-year-old brother, Calvin, was shot in the head in New York. Calvin miraculously survived with the help and support of Kevin and the rest of his family.
"I think oftentimes when you have a situation like that in your life it changes your perspective and helps you understand what you need to do each and every day in the job that you have," says Garrett. "He's been a more serious guy. I think he has matured as well."
Ogletree confirmed that the tragedy of the incident and perseverance of his brother has given him a deeper perspective on his own life. "It's made me look in the mirror a lot," says Ogletree. "It made me think about who all is involved in this; it's not just me. It really forces me to try to be the best person and football player I can be."