Sunday, May 17, 1998
Five wide receivers take aim at spot opposite
By CLARENCE E. HILL JR. / Fort Worth Star-Telegram
IRVING, Texas (AP) -- Billy Davis had little more than a modest
NFL pedigree of being an undrafted rookie who made the Cowboys
as a special teams maven in 1995. He was known more for his work
ethic than his ability to catch the football.
Until a few weeks ago.
Davis, who made $200,000 last season, signed a three-year,
$3 million contact with the Cowboys recently. And then he heard
the sweetest words a former free agent could hear.
"I consider him a starter" opposite Michael Irvin,
Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said. "We paid him starter's money.
He earned it last year. He just wasn't given the job."
Though listed as the starter opposite Irvin, Davis' three
career regular-season catches put a bull's eye on his chest.
Several of the team's other receivers -- namely Stepfret Williams,
Ernie Mills, former TCU standout Jimmy Oliver and Macey Brooks
-- have set aim for Davis' No. 2 receiver spot.
The competition for the position continues in today's coaching
session practice at Valley Ranch, and the final determination
of the starter may not be made until training camp in three months.
"I'm looking at the No. 2 position; there is no where
else for me to look," said the 6-foot-5, 220-pound Brooks,
who is considered Davis' toughest competitor because of his size
and big-play potential.
Now financially secure and appreciative that he will finally
be given a chance to compete full time at the NFL level, Davis
said he will continue to compete with determination and hard
"It feels good for a guy that came from nowhere to somewhere,"
said Davis, who left training camp last season as the Cowboys
second-best receiver and the league's preseason receptions leader
but was relegated to special teams duties during the season.
"It's a reflection of my hard work," he added. "But
I can't get comfortable. I'm not setting myself up for failure
or disappointment. I'm just going to handle myself the best way
I know how and that's through my performance."
Coach Chan Gailey seems less concerned about finding a No.
2 guy. The Cowboys' new offense -- which Gailey said will consist
of shovel passes, double reverses, passes off double reverses
and screens to receivers -- requires more than two quality contributors.
"It's not important to me to have a No. 2 guy, but somebody
has to start and it's important to them," Gailey said. "We
will win by committee at that position. But if you had to pick
somebody right now, it would be Billy. But there is no clear-cut
The Cowboys will also feature four- and five-receiver sets
on offense, the latter of which will require one of the receivers
to line up in the backfield at running back. And Gailey said
he will start installing plays this week in practice that specify
three receivers and a tight end.
Cowboys receivers coach Dwain Painter said they will also
alternate the receivers depending on the play and formation,
meaning every receiver will have to approach the game as if a
starter. The Cowboys coaches say they will need to get at least
80 receptions from Irvin and 30 receptions from two or three
other receivers for the offense to be successful.
As a result, many football experts were surprised the Cowboys
didn't select a receiver in the recent NFL draft, considering
the importance of quality receivers to Gailey's offense and the
fact that the current group of receivers, excluding Irvin and
eight-year veteran Mills, is largely unproven.
Davis, Brooks and third-year veterans Williams and Oliver
have never started a game in the NFL. Oliver, who was injured
his first two seasons after being a second-round pick of the
Chargers in 1995 and sat out last season, is searching for his
first NFL reception. And so is Brooks, a fourth-round draft pick
in 1997 who missed his entire rookie season with a fractured
However, Gailey said on draft day that he was confident the
team had enough capable performers to do the job. And he has
not swayed from that belief.
"They all have things that are particular to them,"
Gailey said. "The things that make the situation good is
they are all quality receivers. Have they reached the next level
yet? No. But I'm excited to watch them progress."
Cowboys quarterback Troy Aikman is convinced they can do the
job as well.
"They are bright guys," Aikman said. "They
all want to work hard and they all want to compete."
Mills, a free-agent signee from Carolina who played for Gailey
in Pittsburgh, is furthest along because he knows the offense
and is helping the younger players grasp the system. However,
his age (29) and his slow recovery from a knee injury in 1996
that limited him to 11 receptions last season project him to
be more of a stop-gap receiver than a player of the future.
According to the Cowboys coaches, Davis' best assets are his
strength, athleticism and work ethic. Cowboys cornerback Kevin
Smith said Brooks, who played college baseball and is a tremendous
basketball player, could be a factor in the Cowboys' red-zone
offense because of his potential to make big plays around the
Williams, a disappointment as a rookie in 1996, emerged to
catch 30 passes for 308 yards and one touchdown last season,
while being used primarily as a third-down slot receiver. However,
questions remain about whether he is strong enough to be an every-down
Oliver could be the wild card. He has seemingly recovered
from the shoulder and knee injuries that plagued him the past
three seasons. Painter said Oliver is worth the gamble because
of his speed. Oliver runs the 40-yard dash in 4.27 seconds.
"We felt we couldn't go out and get a guy out of college
with his experience and run a 4.27," Painter said.
And if Oliver doesn't provide the Cowboys with a consistent
deep threat, they have another in cornerback Deion Sanders, who
played receiver and cornerback for the Cowboys in 1996 before
playing primarily defense last season.
Painter said Sanders, who will start working with the offense
at today's coaching session, gives the Cowboys unlimited possibilities
"To us, he will be a guy that we will involve in ways
that will enhance what we do offensively," Painter said.
"There are a lot of ways to get him the football. Coach
Gailey and I have discussed his role. We are going to do more
than reverses and fly patterns. He will have a big role in the
Distributed by The Associated Press
All content copyright 1998,
AP, KRT, The Abilene Reporter-News
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