Vital Part of the Hurd

mighty big touchdown, coming in the season opener for 51 yards to bring some finality to the Cowboys' 45-35 victory over the pesky Giants. Also, by the way, just as he did last year when the Cowboys established their most prolific season passing the ball.

Or as the head coach loves to poke folks in the ribs by saying, "People don't like for me to say what we did and what we didn't do, but we threw the ball well - we had a tremendous passing game last year."

And this past week, with Owens tending to a death in his family, there was Hurd, Crayton and Miles Austin, another guy whose bio was back there with Hurd's in the 2006 media guide, running first team in the three-receiver sets.

Evidently for a reason.

"I think Hurd and Austin have looked exceptionally well . . . those two guys have really come on," Phillips would say. "I think they have improved a whole lot from the end of last season. We have a real good group of corners right now, especially strong at that area, and these guys catch balls on them so it looks like to me those two guys have really come on."

You know, guys can get better, but even if they do, these Hurds and Austins will always fight perception, that initial one you're tagged with upon arrival in the league. Evidently these guys have improved.

Listen to Hurd. He'll tell you his rookie year was all about learning what he was supposed to do and trying to make an impression, even if that was covering kicks on special teams. He said his second year was all about doing everything exactly right, not making any mental mistakes and catching everything in sight.

But this year, with his confidence raised, Hurd talks about adding "a little something" to his routes to better help him get open. He means he's learning how a little shoulder shift or head fake or maybe a hip swivel might throw off a covering corner, and he now has to nerve to try.

He's also prepared to play whatever wide receiver position the Cowboys need him at. Need him outside wide, fine. Head into the slot, no problem. Flanker, bring it on.

"I can do anything they ask me to do," Hurd said.

While the Cowboys don't seem to have a problem counting on Hurd - "I think some of the young guys will step up and get more receptions, make more plays," Phillips said of his young receivers - Hurd really has to count on himself. This is a significant season for an erstwhile "camp body," that all-important third year - and the final one of his contract.

Hurd's third-year base is $445,000. But he would become a restricted free agent in 2009, and if the Cowboys deemed him worthy enough of a qualifying offer, even a minimum one to give them right of first refusal, that would more than double his base salary since this year's minimum was $927,000. And who knows when someone might offer you a long-term deal with some signing bonus. Hurd also realizes with developmental guys like him, at some point you had better shed the tag, otherwise teams start over with another unheralded guy with a bio in the back of the media guide for less money.

Chances are, whatever Hurd's best is the Cowboys will get it this year.

And they don't seem as queasy about taking their chances on that as some.

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