The competition for the No. 3 receiver role has been one of the most highly contested and closely watched battles throughout Cowboys training camp.
Going into their first preseason game against the Oakland Raiders, the leader of the competition was Kevin Ogletree who was followed closely by training camp stud Cole Beasley.
Other receivers competing for the spot were Andre Holmes, Dwayne Harris and Tim Benford. However after a generally mediocre offensive performance, the hierarchy of receivers may have shifted:
- 1 catch, 12 yards
Ogletree is the “experienced” receiver of the group, going into his 4th
year. Receiver coach Jimmy Robinson has said Ogletree is ahead of the rest of the candidates because of “familiarity with the offense and playmaking in practice."
Against the Raiders Ogletree started across from Dez Bryant and caught the only pass thrown to him, a curl route for 12 yards from Kyle Orton. On that reception Ogletree did a good job running a precise route and coming back to the ball, but the issue is he didn’t do more.
Although he started the game, Tony Romo didn’t throw the ball his way at all, and Orton only threw to him once. In his three years in the league Ogletree has never had more than three receptions or 50 yards in a game. If he is going to hold Andre Holmes for the 3rd
receiver spot he is going to have to show off some of that playmaking ability in games.
- 0 catches, 0 yards
Cole Beasley has been one of the more talked about receivers in training camp, starting with his comment that he doesn’t like being compared to Wes Welker because he is faster than Welker. Then on August 3rd
Beasley abruptly quit the team only to return two days later. However, on the field Beasley has been one of the most consistent performers in practice, earning praise from Tony Romo among others and a starting spot against the Raiders.
However, Beasley did little to back up the praise he has been giving, going the entire game without catching a pass. The only pass thrown in his direction was a seam route on which he was well covered and overthrown by Tony Romo. On the play Romo looked off the safety to create a one-on-one matchup with Beasley but Beasley was unable to shake his man.
To be a starting slot receiver as Beasley hopes to be, he has to win these kinds of one-on-one-matchups. It was telling to see Romo throw to Beasley downfield, considering Romo’s only other downfield throw to a receiver was to Dez Bryant.
This shows that Romo does have some confidence in Beasley. However for him to stay on Romo’s good side, and in the starting lineup, he will need to win his one-on-one matchups.
- 3 catches, 40 yards
Andre Holmes is a player who has come on as of late. Coming into training camp he was pegged as a favorite for the No. 3 spot, but after he failed his conditioning test he seemed to have dropped out of the running. Recently though he has begun to live up to his potential, finally utilizing his 6’5" frame to make big plays in practice, including coming down with a “hail mary” pass at the end of practice two days ago.
In the game, Holmes was the most impressive out of the receivers vying for the No. 3 spot catching three passes for 40 yards on five targets. His first reception was an in-route in which he had to jump to come down with a high pass from Kyle Orton.
His second reception was a well-timed deep out that moved the chains on a 3rd
and long. On that catch he did a good job of creating separation and adjusting to a pass that was thrown behind him. One pass Holmes did not catch came on another deep out where he had created little separation, in part because the corner had safety help over the top.
On this play Orton should not have thrown in Holmes' direction, and his pass sailed out of bounds. Holmes’ final catch was a short in route for only 4 yards, but it was impressive nonetheless as the corner got his hands on the ball as soon as Holmes caught it, but was unable to pry it loose.
One of the knocks on Holmes early in training camp was that he was letting the ball get into his body and not catching with his hands. Well on this play the coverage was so tight that had Holmes let it into his body, the corner would’ve knocked it away.
The fact that he came down with the reception, albeit a short one, shows that he is improving. One could say that Holmes’ performance could be mitigated by the fact that he was playing with the second-team and against the second defense of the Raiders. But considering how little the rest of the receivers competing for the 3rd
receiver spot did, it’s safe to say Holmes had the best performance.
- 1 catch 13 yards
The fourth-round pick of 2011, Harris was said to have improved over the offseason, and seemed likely to get some playing time in the slot. However due to the emergence of Cole Beasley, Harris has gone unnoticed for the most part.
Last night he didn’t do much to help his case. Although he did have a good run after catch on his one reception, turning a 6-yard hitch into a 13-yard gain, the only other pass thrown his way was intercepted and he committed a holding penalty.
On the interception it appeared Harris was running a deep in-route and Kyle Orton’s throw simply sailed on him. On the other hand, Harris can only be blamed for his holding penalty, which negated a 7-yard run. Though Harris came down with one more reception than Beasley, he will need to play much better before he unseats Beasley for the starting slot receiver.
- 1 catch 9 yards
Tim Benford has had some good performances in practice but at this point is a long shot for the 3rd
receiver spot. His one reception was on a hitch route, on which he did a good job of knowing where the first down marker was, gain exactly the nine yards needed to pick up the first down.
However he will have to have more than just one of these kinds of plays per game for him to have any shot of getting playing time in the regular season.
With the loss of Laurent Robinson to the Jaguars, there has been much talk this offseason about how the Cowboys will replace that production from their third wide receiver. Though some of that production should come from Miles Austin, assuming he stays healthy, and an improved Dez Bryant, it is unfair to brush away the third receiver entirely.
Robinson started several games when Miles Austin was injured, but when Austin was healthy Robinson still played split out because Austin is versatile enough to play slot receiver. If the Cowboys do not sign anyone, it is likely they will have some packages where Miles is split out and the 3rd
receiver plays in the slot and other packages where Miles is in the slot and the 3rd
receiver plays split.
If this is the case there are really two battles going on: the battle for the slot and the battle for the split. In terms of the battle for the split it seems to be between Kevin Ogletree and Andre Holmes. Ogletree is the favorite because of experience, but Holmes has been steadily improving and yesterday was a standout among the Cowboys' receivers.
Like many taller receivers he still could improve on his route running, but his ability to use his height and body to make difficult catches could eventually push him past Ogletree. In the slot it is Cole Beasley’s job to lose at this point after putting together a stellar training camp.
However if he is going to get any playing time he will need to show something in these preseason games against the first team defense. But with Dwayne Harris and Tim Benford each having unspectacular games, it appears Beasley is still ahead in the competition for the slot.
All of this could change after Saturday’s game against St. Louis, but for now it seems Andre Holmes is the only receiver to boost his stock from his preseason performance.