IRVING, Texas - Really, the situation isn't all that different from a year ago. The Cowboys will enter training camp without a clear idea of who will be their third wide receiver.
At this point in 2011, though, because of the NFL lockout, no one knew for certain that the team would release Roy Williams on the grounds that $9 million per season is too much to pay for depth at the position. The Cowboys went through camp, weren't overly impressed with the talent on hand, and signed fifth-year journeyman Laurent Robinson to fill the void.
As it turns out, $6 million is too much to pay for a No. 3 receiver as well. That's how much Robinson will average per year after signing with the Jacksonville Jaguars this offseason, putting the Cowboys back at the drawing board.
Now, just as when training camp opened last year, Kevin Ogletree is the favorite for the job despite having only 25 receptions on his NFL rÃ©sumÃ©.
"He is not entrenched as our third receiver by any means," head coach Jason Garrett said. "He's the guy who's been around our program the longest. He's the guy who has the most production and experience in NFL games, so you would say that he has the advantage going in, but it will be competitive."
A free agent this offseason, the Cowboys brought Ogletree back on a one-year deal and have made it clear he has the opportunity to step up in a big way this season. Not long ago, before he failed to make the most of last year's chance, the thought of Ogletree becoming the Cowboys' third guy didn't seem like such a stretch.
"Then we drafted Dez (Bryant) and his opportunities became more limited," Garrett said. "But I think he did a good job over the last couple of years trying to stay with it and fight through it and take advantage of the limited opportunities he did get. He made some big catches on third down for us over the last couple of years, and he has the ability to play inside and outside, which is pretty unique for a third receiver. He has the physical traits to be able to do both."
A passel of untested and un-hyped youngsters will compete with Ogletree: 2012 fifth-round pick Danny Coale, 2011 sixth-rounder Dwayne Harris and undrafted receivers Andre Holmes and Raymond Radway, who is almost fully recovered from last year's broken leg.
Since Garrett became the offensive coordinator in 2007, the Cowboys have occasionally used a committee of players as the third receiver and played different personnel groups, such as two tight ends, as a work around. It's possible that multiple players could fill the role with multiple receivers again, but the team's preference is for one to emerge.
"I'm hopeful that we have that guy here now," receivers coach Jimmy Robinson said. "But time will tell. We won't know that for a while. We won't know that really until training camp, you have preseason games, and we'll just see how it goes."
If numerous players share the job, an important factor will be special teams ability. Ogletree has occasionally been inactive over the last two years because kickoff and punt coverage is not a strong suit. Meanwhile, Harris, Coale and possibly Radway figure into the discussion as return men.
The most talked-about player at the position this offseason has been Holmes, who spent most of last season on the Cowboys' practice squad before being called up at the end of the year.
"If they can contribute on (special) teams, which I think Andre has a good chance to do, that's going to determine really how many guys we dress and who gets a uniform on Sunday," Robinson said. "I know Joe (DeCamillis) liked him a lot. He was a scout team special teams guy a year ago, but I think he saw enough from him to think he's got a chance to help our team in that area.
"He's a really big guy with long arms. He just showed a real tenacity playing on the scout team against your defensive players, your defensive starters, to run good routes, to be aggressive to the ball. He showed that he can measure up physically in this league."
Last year, Robinson was such a big part of the offense that he would be exempted from special teams duties. The Cowboys won't dismiss the possibility of signing a veteran later on, though the preference is to have a young guy emerge, and salary cap room is tight.
Training camp and preseason games will be the most important proving ground for those vying for the position, but the competition has actually already begun. The more practice and exhibition reps a player gets with the first-team offense, the more chances he will have to impress. Between now and training camp, the receivers will begin to order themselves on the depth chart.
"The OTAs will be a big part of that process," Robinsons said.