IRVING, Texas – Here's a Scout's Eye look at the Wide Receivers:
Other than the offensive line, there might not have been a position that had bigger growth from one season to another than these wide receivers. I was not sure how these players would respond to Derek Dooley and how his approach would potentially be different from that of Jimmy Robinson but the transition was smooth and in several areas, much better. You also have to give Keith O'Quinn credit as well for the work that he did with this position as well.
The season ended with Dez Bryant earning his first Pro Bowl nod in his 4th season with the Cowboys. The numbers will tell you that he had 93 catches for 1,233 yards and 13 touchdowns but that really doesn't tell the whole story. It was what Bryant had to do to get those receptions. Opponents were not going to allow him to beat them this season. Bryant had to fight for space the majority of the weeks whether that was with a safety over the top or a linebacker buzzing underneath.
Where Bryant developed more than physically is mentally in his approach to the game and his assignments. I am not going to say that he was perfect but things would have bothered him in the past with coverage, he did a much better job of fighting through the situations that were thrown at him. Opponents did not make it easy for him to operate but he handled it much better than what we had seen in the past. He became a better route runner but he also developed more flexibility to his game by lining up in different spots in the formation. It was this approach that put him in more positions to catch balls.
If you felt like Bruce Carter had a disappointing season on defense, Miles Austin would have been that guy for you on the offense. For all the things we talk about the growth in the group, Austin was a shell of himself. He once again missed games (6) during the season with hamstring issues but even when healthy, he just was never able to get anything going. In 2013, he saw 70 less targets and for the first time since he became a fulltime starter, he was held without a touchdown.
I was one of those that believed before the season that with potential injury questions behind him, that he was due to have a big season. My reasoning had to deal with that Austin is more comfortable not being the lead dog in the sled. With all the spot light on Bryant, that Austin would function under the radar and that would suit him just fine.
Austin just was never able to get anything going but where he did help this club is that by him being on the field, it took coverage away from Bryant that Terrance Williams was not able to do. Despite his lack of production, teams still had to respect his ability to catch the ball and make plays. Austin also has the ability to line up at any position and that also took the pressure off Bryant to focus on his responsibilities only.
If there was a nice surprise during the season, it was the development of Terrance Williams. Usually rookies struggle badly adjusting to life in the NFL but it did not appear that Williams was totally out of sorts in his play. He was put in some situations where he was asked to make plays and the quarterback showed faith in his ability to make those plays. What was impressive about Williams was his willingness to learn and get better.
There were techniques early in the season that he just wasn't as good at but by the time we had got to those games in the final weeks of the season, you saw him getting open and that is why he made the plays that he did.
If there was a player other than Lance Dunbar that I wish these offensive coaches would have used more, it was Cole Beasley. I do understand of getting the ball to Bryant, Witten and Murray but there is something special about what Beasley brings each week to the game. Just 54 targets for the season seems to be a waste here especially how the offense was ranked 25th in the league when it came to 3rd down conversions. I thought their thinking was too late in moving Beasley around whether that was in the slot or lining him up in the backfield. There is just too much play making ability not to take advantage of the mismatches that he can create.
I felt like Dwayne Harris was in much of the same boat as Beasley in the ways that you could use him. Where the coaches did take advantage of Harris' ability was as a tough, point of attack blocker. The team ran the ball better when he was put in these positions and to be honest, it appeared that the other receivers took Harris' cue and overall their effort on the outside improved as well for the group.
As productive as this group was in several areas, I do expect there will most likely be a chance with a player or two before this team reports to Oxnard in July. With the issues of the salary cap looming, there is a good chance that Miles Austin will either be asked to take a pay cut or be released out right. For the amount of salary that he commands and for the level of production, this does not match, so look for that decision in the coming months.
As a whole, the group is very good but I would not be surprised to see another addition to the squad like we did with Williams last season during the draft. From all indications, it is a deep group and there will be an opportunity for this front office to add a quality piece there. Photos of the Cowboys' wide receivers in 2013 >>