Dallas Cowboys

Cowboys need better from their returners

Rookie Lucky Whitehead has flashed some potential on a few punt returns.
Rookie Lucky Whitehead has flashed some potential on a few punt returns. Star-Telegram

The Dallas Cowboys worked out two returners last week. They didn’t sign LaMichael James or Isaiah Pead, but it indicates an interest in an upgrade.

No wonder: The Cowboys rank 25th in kickoff return average and 31st in punt return average.

“We haven’t played very good,” special teams coach Rich Bisaccia said. “I think we’ve only actually had maybe four kickoff returns, and we’ve played against good punters and had some funky field positions. I don’t really think we’re playing very good anywhere right now, to be honest with you.”

The Cowboys lost Dwayne Harris to the Giants in free agency, when he signed a five-year, $17.5 million deal. He entered Monday night’s game with three kickoff returns for a 30.0-yard average and 13 punt returns for a 9.1-yard average.

The Cowboys have averaged 21.6 yards on their 10 kickoff returns and 3.5 yards on their eight punt returns. They lost Lance Dunbar, who has a team-high six kickoff returns and one punt return this season, to a season-ending knee injury against the Saints.

“It’s not always the return guy,” Bisaccia said. “I’ve said that for years. In the past, we’ve had a good group of guys blocking in front and certainly a dynamic returner, and now we’re getting comfortable with the returns that we’ve used and getting a little bit better blocking up front.”

Rookie Lucky Whitehead went into training camp as a candidate for the return jobs and likely stuck on the 53-player roster because of his ability to do both jobs. However, Whitehead had trouble handling the ball at times in the preseason and during practice, losing the kickoff return job to Dunbar and the punt return job to Cole Beasley.

The Cowboys used Whitehead as a returner for the first time against New England, the week after Dunbar was lost for the season, and he had one punt return for minus-2 yards and one kickoff return for 21 yards. Beasley also had one punt return, gaining 8 yards, against the Patriots.

Bisaccia was asked where the “trust factor” is with Whitehead right now.

“Trust factor can be a guy playing guard on the punt team: Is he going to get the right set? Is he going to block the right guy and get himself in position that we need him to get in?” Bisaccia said. “Anytime you get a guy on your team on a Wednesday, and he has to play on a Sunday, or you get a guy as a rookie, and he goes through training camp. I think we’ve done a good job of tasking him, and now we’ve put him in position to trust him. I thought he played well [against the Patriots]. The one decision to take it out -- it was a big hang. But if you don’t get in a game and feel what its like to get a 4.4 hang, you’re just 5 yards deep, it’s hard to explain that to him. I think it’s a lesson learned for him and we didn’t do a very good job of blocking for him on that particular play. I thought he did a great job of going to get that punt. New England did a heck of a job kicking it outside the numbers. He did a great job of going to get it. He’s developing his trust every day with us.”