Commentary

Miles Austin's role never more vital

Dez Bryant's personal issues put spotlight on importance of Cowboys' top receiver

Updated: July 20, 2012, 1:00 AM ET
By Todd Archer | ESPNDallas.com

IRVING, Texas -- Those who want to anoint Dez Bryant as the Dallas Cowboys' No. 1 receiver seem to overlook the guy who actually is the No. 1 receiver, Miles Austin.

[+] EnlargeDez Bryant, Miles Austin
Matthew Emmons/US PresswireMiles Austin can be a dangerous, versatile weapon -- a quality that becomes more important with the Cowboys' dependency on Dez Bryant in question.
With Bryant's arrest over the weekend, Austin's importance to the Cowboys has never been greater.

Austin missed six games last year because of two hamstring injuries. He suffered the first hamstring strain in camp and was unable to shake free all season. Those injuries tend to linger, especially with wide receivers and all of the running they do.

He finished last year with 43 catches for 579 yards and seven touchdowns. He needs to at least double the catches and yards in 2012 for this offense to be as potent as it can be.

Austin has been knocked by some for his output since signing the big contract in 2010. In 2009, he set the world on fire with 81 catches for 1,320 yards and 11 touchdowns in nine starts. He had 20 catches in his first two games of 2011, but then lost his mojo when Tony Romo was lost for the year because of a collarbone injury.

Yet Austin's peers still voted him as a Pro Bowl alternate, so he had to do something right.

Austin is a dangerous wide receiver because he can be used all over the field. Lost in the talk about the team's search for a No. 3 receiver is the fact that Austin is the guy who works the slot. They don't need a slot guy. That's Austin's gig. His quickness and speed make him a matchup nightmare for cornerbacks ... when healthy.

And that's the key. Austin must stay healthy, because the Cowboys don't know how much they can depend on Bryant.

Now, on to your questions:

Q: Do you think the Cowboys will be more inclined to pursue a receiver in light of Dez's arrest? -- Akash, Denton, Texas

A: Not out of the gate, no. Even if Bryant did not get arrested, I think they would have had their eyes on the wide receiver market in hopes of finding another Laurent Robinson. But I don't see them going after a veteran guy such as Plaxico Burress at this point. It's possible Bryant does not miss a game, but I know the Cowboys will do their due diligence. They will have the cap room to get a guy, so that will not be an issue.

Q: What are the odds that Dez gets a suspension from the league since this was his first legit arrest? -- Garrett, Wellsboro, Pa.

A: The fact that it was his first arrest doesn't matter. Commissioner Roger Goodell has the power to do what he wants, basically, whether there is a conviction or not. I think there's a decent chance Bryant will get a one-game suspension, but more of the legal process has to play itself out.

Q: Do you believe the recent events with Dez Bryant will bring any drastic measures or moves, and do you feel they should do something? -- Vinnie, Staten Island, N.Y.

A: I don't see the Cowboys cutting or trading Bryant. Not now. You wouldn't get anything close to equal value at this point, and honestly I don't know if a team would want him knowing the possibility of a suspension or future suspensions could happen. I think they will wait for the league to act before they impose any sort of sanction on him. Jason Garrett talks about being the right kind of guy, and clearly this incident is the opposite of what Garrett wants.

Q: Do you think Tony Romo will improve upon last year's great performance? -- Omar G., Garland, Texas

A: That will be difficult because I think last year was his best year with 31 touchdowns and just 10 picks. I think the Cowboys would take another one of those seasons and be thrilled. This isn't to say there aren't areas in which Romo can improve. One thing I want to see from him is more back-shoulder throws. A couple of years ago he was on fire with those throws in camp, but then he broke his collarbone. He didn't have many of them last year. With more time with Jason Witten down the seam or Austin and Bryant outside, I think Romo's accuracy would make him a great back-shoulder passer.

[+] EnlargeDeMarco Murray
Matthew Emmons/US PresswireDeMarco Murray has the potential for a 1,000-yard season with the Cowboys if he can avoid injury.
Q: DeMarco Murray had an amazing season last year before it was cut short by injury. Which is closer to what will happen this year; gets injured again and misses a good portion of the year, or stays healthy and is one of the biggest contributions to the Cowboys? -- Tom, Texas

A: I'd go with stays healthy. I realize he had a history of injuries at Oklahoma and came to camp last year with a hamstring injury, but with the offseason he has had and the ability to train with the strength coaches, I think he stays healthy. Maybe I'm just going on a gut feeling here. We'll see. But I think he has at least 1,000 yards this year.

Q: What is the update on former Packers safety Nick Collins? I know doctors were reevaluating his injury to potentially clear him to play. I realize he's damaged goods, but he is the playmaking safety the Cowboys defense is missing. I view him as a low risk option with extremely high potential. Your thoughts? -- Jason Burke, San Antonio

A: It's probably too big of a risk when you're talking about a neck injury. I don't think the Cowboys would go there. They want to see what they have on the roster right now. They like their crop of safeties, such as Barry Church and Matt Johnson. Maybe down the road they would look at it because of injuries, but not right now.

Q: With training camp just around the corner, it is going to be fun seeing the new defense with a full offseason push Tony Romo and this high octane offense to a higher level. Do you agree that this offseason the offense and the defense are going to push each other and evolve into a great complete team! -- Juan Jose Gonzalez, San Bernadino, Calif.

A: The defense has to be better than it was a year ago, but I don't think it will be a dominating-type unit, like what Pittsburgh and Baltimore have thrown out there for years. I think it will be in the top 10 and create more turnovers than a year ago. While all of the eyes will be on the defense, I think the offense needs scrutiny, too. For all of the yards Garrett's scheme can pile up, they just don't score enough points. They need to be more efficient in the red zone and they need to do a better job on the ground. They had only five rushing touchdowns a year ago. That's why I believe Bill Callahan will be the most important offseason addition. I think he makes a big difference in 2012.

Q: What do you see the possibility is of Claiborne still starting without any practice time yet? Heard anything about his attitude towards film room? -- Matt, Des Moines, Iowa

A: If he's not the starter, then I'd be surprised. He was in the meeting rooms and at least watching on the practice field. Coaches at LSU and coaches with the Cowboys talk about his "football smarts," so I think he'll be OK in learning the system. One thing that Aaron Glenn said a few years ago when he was with the Cowboys regarding 3-4, 4-3 schemes has stuck with me: For the secondary, it doesn't matter. Cover 0, Cover 1, Cover 2 is all the same. Claiborne has tremendous athletic ability and showed at the college level he can make plays. We'll see if that translates to the NFL, but if he doesn't work out, I don't think it will be because of his film room work. He seems to have the work ethic necessary.

Q: Your gut feeling: Do you see Mike Jenkins in a Cowboys' uniform next year regardless of what season he has this year? -- Morice, Virginia Beach, Va.

A: Next year, as in 2013? No, I don't, but I wouldn't close the door. To me, Jenkins is a top-flight cornerback and he has cost himself a lot of money with the way he has approached this offseason. He will not be ready to practice when camp begins and it's possible he starts the season on the physically unable to perform list, which would cost him the first six games. Say that happens. So he'll have 10 games to show he's healthy and play well. Which team will give him the type of contract he's looking for? The Cowboys have said they have the money budgeted to pay four cornerbacks. With Brandon Carr, Claiborne and Orlando Scandrick, it seems unlikely.

Q: Why did Gerald Sensabaugh wait until two weeks before camp to have that knee surgery? I follow him on Twitter and all I see is how much fishing he is doing, going to Mexico, California, fishing tournaments and as of today, he's walking around Disneyland with his kids. I understand about downtime in the off-season but it sounds terribly like he put off surgery so it would not interfere with the fun, and elected to have it when he's supposed to be on the field at camp. Tell me I am wrong, please! -- Brian, San Antonio

A: Sensabaugh and the Cowboys were hoping rest would have taken care of the issues with the knee, but when it didn't, they opted for the scope. This is different than how Andre Gurode showed up to camp after knee surgery last year, waiting too long during the lockout. This was a simple cleanup -- I know it's easy for me to call it that -- and it is quite possible he will be on the field July 30 for the first full-squad practice. He's shown he's a pretty quick healer and a tough guy. I don't think you need to be worried about it.

Q: Why don't the Cowboys start looking for their next QB of the future? I think it would be smart to use a high draft pick on one and let him learn from Romo for a few years, just like Green Bay did with Aaron Rodgers and Matt Flynn. -- Steve, Milwaukee

A: The easy answer, I guess, is there has to be a quarterback worth taking. I'm of the belief you take a quarterback every year, like Ron Wolf tended to do in Green Bay. Romo is 32 and is in his prime, but I'm with you, I think they need to look at the future. That being said, you have to follow the draft board and fill in more immediate needs at times. With the way the drafts have fallen here lately, I don't think they have had a chance to take a quarterback of the future.

Todd Archer

ESPN Dallas Cowboys reporter

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