Commentary

Tony Romo deepens receiver depth

As long as wideouts know where to be, Cowboys QB can make reserves famous

Updated: August 26, 2012, 2:51 AM ET
By Tim MacMahon | ESPNDallas.com

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Who the heck needs Miles Austin and Dez Bryant?

OK, that's a ridiculous overreaction to an impressive performance by the Dallas Cowboys' reserve receivers in Saturday's 20-19 preseason win over the St. Louis Rams. Nevertheless, receiver depth definitely doesn't feel like a panic-worthy problem after watching Tony Romo shred the Rams for 198 yards and two touchdowns in one quarter of work while Austin (hamstring) and Bryant (knee) watched from the sideline.

[+] EnlargeTony Romo
AP Photo/Brandon WadeTony Romo connected with Dwayne Harris to the tune of three catches for 118 yards and two touchdowns in the preseason win over the Rams.
"I think we needed that," Romo said. "We need to have some depth at that position."

All the Cowboys really need is reliability from their reserve receivers. Just be where they're supposed to be.

As long as that happens, it's part of a franchise quarterback's job to make unknown receivers recognizable names. No doubt Romo can handle that responsibility.

Exhibit A: Laurent Robinson last season.

Robinson arrived in Dallas as a journeyman. He left as a rich man.

Romo ought to get a share of the five-year, $32.5 million deal Robinson signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars. Robinson had totals of 1,000 yards and four touchdowns in four injury-riddled seasons with the Atlanta Falcons and Rams. He blew up for 858 yards and 11 touchdowns in his only season with Romo.

That's not to discount what Robinson did during his short stay in Dallas. He established a rapport with Romo, ran the right routes and made plays when presented the opportunity. Romo, not to mention Austin's tender hamstrings, presented Robinson with plenty of opportunities.

Lesson learned for guys such as Kevin Ogletree and Dwayne Harris, whose mental busts last season opened the door for a dude claimed off waivers in September to play such a significant role.

"If you're in the right place at the right time, Tony's going to find you," said Harris, the star of Saturday night with two touchdowns from Romo highlighting a three-catch, 118-yard performance. "He's a great quarterback. He's going to find the open guy. If you run your route and get open, he's going to throw it to you."

It's not like the Cowboys are counting on their No. 3 receiver -- and it's likely to be Ogletree despite the impressive preseasons by Harris and undrafted rookie Cole Beasley -- to replace Robinson's production.

They hope Austin and Bryant can get healthy by the season opener and stay that way throughout the course of the season. (Not that the odds are great for Austin and his wet-toilet-paper-strength hamstrings.)

Harris If you're in the right place at the right time, Tony's going to find you.

-- Cowboys WR Dwayne Harris
on QB Tony Romo
Even if the starters miss time, it's not realistic to think that an unproven reserve will rank fourth in the NFL in touchdown receptions again. Heck, none of the Cowboys' reserve receivers have ever had a touchdown catch in an NFL game that counts. Ogletree (25 catches for 294 yards in his three-year career) is the only one who has a reception, period.

But these receivers have provided reason to believe that the Cowboys don't have to cross their fingers and hope to find a Laurent-like gift on the waiver wire for the second straight September. They look like a group that Romo can work with, especially if security blanket/tight end Jason Witten gets well soon.

Itty-bitty Beasley, a garbage-time giant in last week's preseason game against the San Diego Chargers, just keeps getting open and catching the ball. He caught all three passes thrown his way against the Rams, gaining 40 yards.

Harris has put together a pretty good highlight reel the last two games. His three touchdown catches were all impressive: snatching a ball in traffic in San Diego, racing by the St. Louis secondary on a post and splitting a pair of Rams defenders en route to the end zone on his other score.

And Ogletree is finally showing the kind of consistency the coaches keep saying they need to see from him. He followed up a four-catch, 60-yard performance in San Diego with five catches for 75 yards against the Rams.

"I'm kind of kicking myself in the butt about that slant that he threw to me and I missed," Ogletree said, referring to a drop that was the only time he was targeted that didn't result in a first down.

Consider Ogletree's reaction a good sign. There were whispers last summer about him having a sense of self-entitlement, which is especially inexcusable given his lack of career accomplishments.

But it wasn't a surprise when Ogletree flopped when given a significant role, getting surpassed by Robinson on the depth chart after many mental malfunctions in Week 2's Monday night field goal fest against the Washington Redskins. The most memorable thing about Ogletree's outing that night was Romo yelling that the receiver was stupid after a blown assignment nearly resulted in a red-zone interception.

Ogletree, who is entering a make-or-break season in his fourth year after getting no nibbles in free agency, appears to have matured. He has at least figured out that succeeding as a receiver with Romo is really pretty simple.

"Just make those plays when they're given to you," Ogletree said. "Be where you're supposed to be and just be reliable. That entails a lot of things as far as being in the right place and knowing and knowing you know."

Romo needs to know the timing will be right. He needs to trust that his receivers know the plays and how to react to different coverages.

"Are they seeing the same things I'm seeing and recognizing it?" Romo said.

If they do, Romo will give the no-names a chance to be recognized this season.

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