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Wednesday, August 1, 2012
5 Wonders: Protect Miles Austin; eye on Saalim Hakim

By Todd Archer

OXNARD, Calif. -- Every Wednesday we’ll be bringing you Five Wonders, with today being the official training camp debut of the award-winning fixture. And by award-winning I mean the gold star my children put on my computer a long time ago.

With no further ado, here we go:

* Jason Garrett likes to say his receivers need to run, run and then run some more. As a group they have to be in the best physical condition of any players on a team. But I wonder if the Cowboys should monitor how much work they give Miles Austin. He missed six games last year because of hamstring injuries to both legs, and the offense missed him. Given Dez Bryant’s issues, the Cowboys need Austin more than ever, so it might be wise to limit Austin some. It’s a balance Garrett has to find of getting players ready for a season while not taxing them so much that they become susceptible to injury. And while I wonder about this, I don’t believe the Cowboys are wondering about it at all.

* I wonder if this is the year defensive end Clifton Geathers gets into the mix. He has been with the Cowboys for parts of the last two seasons, playing in five games last season and garnering five tackles. At 6-foot-7, 325 pounds, he is definitely a candidate for the All-Airport team. He just looks like a player. And he’s also cheaper than Kenyon Coleman and Marcus Spears. Coleman has a $1.9 million salary. Spears is set to make $2 million. Geathers is set to make $540,000. You can’t discount the financials in these decisions. The Cowboys jettisoned their veteran offensive linemen last year and they chose not to sign Mat McBriar over $300,000. The Cowboys are getting younger and cheaper, and if Geathers can show he can handle more of a role he could slide two veterans out of the mix.

* Last year the Cowboys hit on several veteran free agent finds during the season, from Laurent Robinson to Tony Fiammetta to Montrae Holland to Sammy Morris. I don’t have to wonder too much if they have confidence in the pro scouting department to find help again in 2012. For all of the fans wanting the Cowboys to sign a veteran wide receiver like Plaxico Burress or at least Patrick Crayton, I’d say the team is being patient when it comes to the receiver group. And remember the money. Robinson signed for the minimum salary benefit last year before blowing up as the No. 3 receiver. The Cowboys didn’t look for a veteran last year at wide receiver, and their decisions to look into Josh Gordon and Dezmon Briscoe seems to indicate they will do the same this year.

* I wonder why there is not more concern over the foot injury of nose tackle Jay Ratliff. He was not able to take part in any on-field football work during the offseason because of plantar fasciitis and he can only go through the walkthrough practices early in camp. The Cowboys don’t want Ratliff to aggravate the injury in camp, but this is something that has been problematic for at least three months. While a difficult nose tackle to block because of how active he is, he needs his feet to help with leverage. Without leverage Ratliff is just another guy. And let’s not forget that his sack total has decreased in each of the last four seasons from 7.5 to six to 3.5 to two.

* I wonder if Saalim Hakim can get into this wide receiver mix. I cannot believe I typed that after the performance Hakim put forward in the rookie minicamp after the draft, because as a receiver he showed a remarkable ability to not catch the ball. But now Hakim, who is the younger brother of Az-Zahir Hakim, the former St. Louis wideout from the Rams’ Greatest Show on Turf days, is in much better shape and is catching the football. Hakim made his way on to the Cowboys’ radar with his work on special teams for Jim Fassel in the UFL. Hakim’s speed should make him a factor on special teams here, but he had an eye-popping run after catch on Monday that had one defender groan, "That (expletive) is fast." It was almost as if Hakim glided above the ground as he sped down the sideline.