Receiver Dwayne Harris was one of many Cowboys to depart this off-season for a bigger contract. Mostly a special teamer who not only took returns but covered them also, Harris inked a five-year, $17.5 million deal with the Giants after becoming a free agent.
"It's unfortunate that we lost him, but you can't blame the guy," said Dallas kicker Dan Bailey, who as a Cowboys team captain will help lead his club into tonight's Giants-at-Cowboys opener at AT&T Stadium. "It's part of the business."
Sources tell CHQ that the "part of the business'' that goes to replacing Harris will feature Cole Beasley as the punt returner and Lance Dunbar as the kick returner. Rookie Lucky Whitehead has been touted for that role but he wasn't in the first-team rotation this week during practice.
Bailey, who also handles the team's kickoff duties, appreciated the hard work Harris put into covering kicks and punts.
"He's a guy that plays hard and definitely anytime you have a guy who can put 17 tackles on a special teams unit, whether it's kickoff or punt, I think obviously is going to help your team out a lot,'' Bailey said. "When he was here, he was a good player for us."
Harris led the Cowboys in special-teams tackles the past two seasons with 12 in 2014 and nine in 2013. Initially, Harris wanted to be known more for his receiving than for his special teams efforts.
"When he first got here, he was more focused on playing receiver than he was at coverage," recalls Danny McCray, who was Harris' teammate in Dallas from 2011-13 and will try to pick up for Harris' departure as a coverage guy. "And then once he found out that he could do that, I think he slimmed up and lost a little weight and really his work ethic changed. You saw him grow as a person with age and become a professional and I think that paid off for him."
The former sixth-round draft pick from 2011 had his flashy moments. Over his career with the Cowboys, he logged two punt return touchdowns and had a 90-yard kickoff return against Washington on Oct. 13, 2013. The same season, he caught a seven-yard touchdown pass from Tony Romo to beat the Minnesota Vikings 27-23 at AT&T Stadium.
Losing Harris is significant, but his former teammates remain resolved that other Cowboys special-teamers need to step up and replace his production.
"Dwayne was a great player, but there were other players on the team who were making tackles also," said McCray. "I don't think it's really fill a void. I think the coverage units will be fine. We're going to try out some new returners. I think they'll be good. I think the blocking will be fine."
"I don't think any one guy sticks out on the unit," Bailey said. "I think we try to establish the idea of we're all in this together. But it's been no question the better talent you have, the more together you are as a unit, the better chance you have to have to have success."
Names may not stick out to Bailey, but McCray has a few names he thinks can be key for Dallas in Harris' absence.
"[Jeff] Heath is always been great in coverage. Lance [Dunbar]... We got Keith [Smith] show some great stuff in the preseason. I could really just name all 11. I think we got some great guys who want to play hard. I think it will show when we get out there in the game."
The Cowboys special teams gave up a blocked punt and a kickoff return for a touchdown this preseason. They will need their 11 best special-teamers to tighten up the operation now that the games count.