For the first time in four seasons, the Cowboys have a question about who will return kickoffs and punts for them. Dwayne Harris held the job full time from 2012-2014, returning two punts for touchdowns, while averaging 11.1 yards per punt return and 26.5 yards per kickoff return.
Harris, who also led the team with 18 special teams tackles last season, parlayed that into a five-year, $17.5 million deal with the Giants.
Now, the Cowboys are working several players as Harris’ replacement as a returner, and it could take more than one player to fill his roles.
“They’re wide open,” Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said. “Dwayne did a really nice job for us, not only as a return, but as a complete special teams player, even had a role on offense. Each of those responsibilities, there’s a void there. We’re looking for guys who can step in. I don’t know if you have a preference [whether it’s one returner or two for the two jobs]. I think you want your best punt return guy; you want your best kickoff return guy. Hopeful those guys are on your roster that you don’t have to have a specialty guy in each of those spots. I think based on where we are right now, we’re optimistic that there’s good competition that we can find somebody that we like.”
Lance Dunbar, J.J. Wilcox, Lucky Whitehead, Reggie Dunn, Tyler Patmon, Nick Harwell and Lache Seastrunk have worked on the kickoff return team. Cole Beasley, Dunbar, Wilcox and Whitehead are candidates for the punt return job.
Whitehead has caught Jerry Jones’ eye, with the owner singling out the rookie free agent Thursday.
“Once he brings that out, people start to look at No. 13,” Whitehead said. “So I don’t want him to swallow his words. I’ve got to come out here everyday with an edge and ready to compete every day.”
Whitehead, who stands 5-9 and weighs 180, was a slot receiver at Florida Atlantic. The Cowboys seek a fifth receiver, so he makes sense if he can also fill the return jobs, but the Cowboys already have a standout slot receiver in Beasley.
“We’ve got a lot of college tape on Lucky,” special teams coach Rich Bisaccia said. “He’s done both in college. He’s got great speed. He’s really caught on well in the system we run and what we’re trying to do. He’s studied a lot. He’s spent a lot of his off-time studying it. We’re going to give him a shot and see what he can do.
“It’s a fallacy to some degree to think a guy can come out and just be very good on special teams and not very good on offense or defense, be very good on special teams and not good at their position. They’ve got to do pretty good at their position, too, in order to give me a chance to fight for them to make the team. He’s made some plays on offense and done some things, raised eyebrows, and so have some of the other ones. We had a couple of good runs out of No. 37 [Gus Johnson] the other day. We’ve got to find another group, a couple of backups on field-goal protection too. That’s always a big thing to look at.”
Charean Williams, 817-390-7760