Wide Open: Late Add Boosts WR Corps

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(Editor's Note: This is the fifth of an 11-part series analyzing every position on the Cowboys' roster, providing a quick look back before addressing the needs of each spot on the field and how it can be improved heading into the 2012 season. Today we examine the wide receivers.)

Pressing Matters: With Roy Williams released before training camp, the Cowboys' strength in numbers at wide receiver was erased, and the preseason hamstring injury to Miles Austin reinforced the team's need for improved depth.

Austin would deal with injury issues off and on throughout the year, but the savvy pickup of Laurent Robinson in Week 1 soothed concerns. The fifth-year pro developed a quick connection with Tony Romo, catching 11 touchdown passes. Dez Bryant missed only one game despite health questions of his own after an injury-plagued rookie year, his development continuing. Bryant was on the receiving end of several big catches late in games, eliciting more of Romo's confidence as the season progressed.

Behind the top three, Kevin Ogletree, Jesse Holley and rookie Dwayne Harris offered occasional contributions in their respective role, though questions persist whether any would be able to replace Robinson if he left via free agency.

2011 Evaluation: When healthy, Austin was a playmaker for the Cowboys, but his recurring hamstring injuries made him undependable. Austin tweaked the hamstring three different times, missing all or part of eight regular season games, as well as much of training camp.

Bryant led the receiving corps in catches, with 63, and hauled in nine touchdowns. Late in the game in third down situations, he had big grabs against the Redskins (twice) and the Cardinals to give kicker Dan Bailey a chance for winning field goal attempts. While his athleticism allowed him to win a number of one-on-one battles with cornerbacks, Bryant also picked up a better understanding of the offense, showing a greater ability to recognize coverages and adjust the same way as Romo. Still, his knowledge of the offense is a work in progress, and he needs a productive offseason as much as anyone.

After catching only four touchdowns in four injury-plagued seasons of his own, Robinson became a red zone security blanket for Romo, consistently displaying the ability to get himself open when the quarterback scrambled. It remains to be seen whether the play of the receiver priced him out of the Cowboys' market, though.

Beyond the top three guys, the club's other receivers got only limit opportunities to catch the football, though they took advantage of them more often than not.

Need More From ... : Before he broke out in 2009, Austin had a reputation as an injury-prone player with suspect hands. The health wasn't an issue in '09 or 2010, but was a bigger problem than ever before in 2011. Austin was not the only player battling hamstring injuries, as the offseason lockout seemed to produce a league-wide epidemic for skill position players.

Whether he worked his legs too hard or not hard enough during the spring and summer, Austin's legs were never quite right. The Cowboys are hopeful that his wheels will be better conditioned this offseason, though, as he'll be able to work out under the supervision of strength coach Mike Woicik.

Austin displayed the ability to take over games at times, his best performance a nine-catch, 143-yard, three-touchdown outing against San Francisco. But even in that game he had been ruled out by the overtime period due to an aggravation of his hamstring injury.

Upgrades Needed: If Robinson leaves, the team will definitely look to acquire another weapon, possibly from the same place they found the former Falcons, Rams and Chargers receiver. The Cowboys don't necessarily need another stud behind Austin and Bryant, but a player who can assimilate into the system and develop some chemistry with Romo would help stem the tide in the event of more injuries.

The NFL has evolved into a wide open, pass-happy league, and the No. 3 receiver will be on the field a lot even if the starters are healthy. If he can get himself open against single coverage, he becomes a greater complement for Austin, Bryant and Jason Witten.

Position Analysis:

Miles Austin - Even when he was healthy, there were times when he didn't totally look like it. There's just no way to live up to the big contract on the sidelines.

Dez Bryant - The best thing he accomplished was that he stayed on the field. Injuries, the lockout and a suspension his junior year in college stunted Bryant's growth, but his potential remains sky high. Work ethic questions disappeared.

Laurent Robinson - Definitely a keeper, but at what price? Would a potential market value of $6 or $7 million per season be too much for a third receiver given the Cowboys cap situation?

Kevin Ogletree - After three years, Ogletree hasn't taken the leap forward that he appeared capable of as a rookie. The Cowboys didn't think he was ready to be a No. 3 in 2011, and might not in 2012.

Jesse Holley - A solid special teams player, he has made the most of every opportunity he's gotten despite limited athleticism.

Dwayne Harris - The sixth-round pick spent most of the year on the practice squad, but showed a little return ability at the end of the year. He had hamstring problems of his own.

Andre Holmes: Signed from the practice squad at the end of the year, he has good size for the position, but is still very green.

Teddy Williams - A former track star who has been on the practice squad for two years, he still appears to be a long shot.

Raymond Radway - After flashing tons of athleticism in camp and the preseason, he suffered a gruesome leg injury in the exhibition finale, landing on the injured reserve.

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