Cowboys look for young receivers to step up against 49ers
August 28, 2009
ARLINGTON, Texas – Roy Williams is fresh off a hard hit to his shoulder that probably will cost him some valuable time with Tony Romo. His backup, Sam Hurd, is waiting for a leg bruise to heal.
Boy, things sure are working out well for Kevin Ogletree.
An undrafted rookie from Virginia, Ogletree already had impressed teammates and coaches on the Dallas Cowboys during training camp, then turned more heads by making a one-handed-while-getting-interfered-with touchdown catch in the preseason home opener. Now, with Williams and Hurd likely to miss the preseason game against the San Francisco 49ers on Saturday night, Ogletree should get his best chance yet to prove how wrong teams were by skipping him on draft day.
“Oh man, that’s my little candle I’m keeping lit, and it’s burning inside,” Ogletree said.
He gave up his final year of college eligibility because he thought he was ready for the NFL, only to watch 34 other receivers get taken.
“That was a tough period for me, but I’m not even looking at that now,” he said. “Being here with the Cowboys and playing for this team means the most to me. … I couldn’t have asked to be in a better place and a better position on a better team.”
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Even before the injuries, the Cowboys were a perfect place for Ogletree to try snagging a roster spot, and not merely because they need to replace Terrell Owens.
Dallas opened training camp with four receivers likely to make the squad. Teams usually have five, or even six, so Ogletree knew there probably was a job available, especially for a receiver who could prove himself on special teams, too.
Then there was the team’s recent history of loading up on bargain-bin receivers.
Other than Williams, who was acquired for a bundle of draft picks and a $45 million contract extension, consider the pedigree of the rest of Dallas’ mainstays: Patrick Crayton, seventh-round pick; Hurd, undrafted; Miles Austin, undrafted.
“That’s something I look at,” Ogletree said.
Another thing in Ogletree’s favor is the presence of tight ends coach John Garrett, the brother of offensive coordinator Jason Garrett. John coached Ogletree for two years at Virginia and promised him a fair shake; that was a big reason he signed with Dallas instead of the other 20-plus teams that offered him the chance to try earning a job.
“I trusted that he had my best interest in mind when he told me that I would have a good chance to play here,” Ogletree said.
Ogletree caught 117 passes for 1,332 yards and nine touchdowns at Virginia. A knee injury cost him a season, but rather than use that medical redshirt he decided to turn pro. Of the 46 underclassmen who entered the draft, he was among nine who weren’t selected.
Once he was in camp, none of that mattered.
The 6-foot, 192-pound receiver has found a way to stand out in a crowd of seven receivers fighting for that No. 5 spot. The group includes Manny Johnson, a seventh-round pick from Oklahoma, and Isaiah Stanback, a college quarterback projected as a receiver who was taken in the fourth round in 2007 and has struggled to stay healthy.
Through two preseason games, Ogletree has three catches for 37 yards and the touchdown. Although that might not sound like much, none of the other receiver candidates has more than a single catch.
“I could see from day one that the kid has some ability,” Romo said. “His approach has been good. I think he’s got a good head on his shoulders, and he wants to get better. That’s probably the No. 1 thing you look for out of a young kid. Does he want to improve and continue to grow and get better? And he does. I thought he did a good job in the last game. He’s coming along.”
Ogletree also is proving himself on special teams.
In the preseason opener against the Raiders, he didn’t have a catch but he returned four kickoffs for 107 yards, including a 39-yarder. He had a 21-yard return in the second game, against Tennessee. His average of 26.8 yards is best on the team, topping Stanback, presumably his top competition for a fifth receiver’s job, and Austin, the kickoff returner the last three years.
Of course, he also has that dazzling touchdown on his resume. It was only a 2-yarder, but it’s one he could watch over and over.
“It was another chance to try to put a stamp on me being around and trying to help this team win,” he said. “It was a nice experience. Hopefully there will be more to come.”