With the Dallas Cowboys All-Pro wide receiver Dez Bryant sidelined by foot surgery, there was no crowd around his empty locker. Instead, scattered groups were talking to his fellow receivers – the ones who will be asked to fill his shoes in Philadelphia.
“These are the moments that you train for. I don’t have any pressure,” Terrance Williams said. “I’ve just got to go out there and run the plays that Coach calls and what Tony gives me. Stick to my fundamentals and play fast – what got me here.”
The same holds true for Devin Street, who is poised to see the biggest increase in his workload since he arrived on the roster last year. The second-year receiver had a strong debut in the preseason but was hampered at times by an ankle injury. It’s an opportunity that’s been a while in the making for the fifth-round pick out of Pittsburgh.
“I’m anxious, of course – you dream about it as a kid, playing in the NFL,” Street said. “Now the time is here, where you get to go out there and really get some plays under your belt. So I’m anxious, but at the same time it’s football. I’ll be calm and ready to go out there.”
That’s been the refrain throughout the week, as the Cowboys prepare to play at least the next month or so without one of the NFL’s best receivers. The loss even prompted a trade, as Dallas sent a conditional draft pick to Oakland for a physical presence in 6-3 wide out Brice Butler.
“It says a lot,” Butler said of the trade. “I’ve been waiting for a team to call my number and rely on me to go out there and make plays, so I’m excited for the opportunity.”
It remains to be seen whether Butler will even get that opportunity on Sunday, but it’s going to take all hands on deck to help replace the loss 1,320 receiving yards and 16 receiving touchdowns. It’s a problem offensive coordinator Scott Linehan was asked to address, and a problem he framed through a more positive light.
“Let’s be honest, you’re going to miss the guy,” Linehan said of Bryant. “But what it does do is it makes you step back and realize, in our case, that we have really good weapons at other positions – and throughout we’ve got some guys who have really stepped up.”
Williams, Cole Beasley and Jason Witten are the primary trio that come to mind, but Linehan has other options he can turn to against the Eagles’ defense. Lance Dunbar led the Dallas offense in receptions in Week 1, and Gavin Escobar opened the season with a receiving touchdown.
None of that is to deny the impact that No. 88 can make on a game, Linehan allowed. But there’s plenty left to feel good about – and from a variety of different positions.
“I just feel really good about our complementary guys becoming a little more primary guys and seeing how that works,” Linehan said. “I’m really excited to watch these guys step up and have more increased roles with more opportunities.”
MEAT ON THE BONE: Joseph Randle’s hungry for that first hundred
Back in May, Joseph Randle’s comments about DeMarco Murray leaving “meat on the bone” became a national story that prompted Murray to respond with his hopes of Randle “tasting some of that meat” when they squared off in the regular season.
Well, that moment is finally here.
The Dallas Cowboys starting running back did admit his excitement level and his desire to have his best game individually.
“The excitement only builds. I’ve been waiting for this game for a long time,” Randle said Thursday. “I’ve been waiting for this opportunity. I hate to be a little selfish, but I still haven’t had a 100-yard game yet. So it’s a lot of things I have to focus on with my game and helping this team win.”
Randle rushed for 65 yards last week against the Giants, but did have another 42 yards in receiving. Meanwhile in Philly, the Eagles fell behind early and while Murray did get two touchdowns, he only rushed for nine yards on eight carries.
Randle said it’s a weekly goal to outdo the opposing backfield.
“We always pride ourselves on winning the rushing title every week,” Randle said. “That’ll be the same this week, too. It’s going to be fun. I think we’re going to focus on our guys – an us against the world type of feeling. It is a rivalry. Any time we play this game, we’re excited to play.”
Randle said he hasn’t spoken to Murray since his former teammate signed with the Eagles in the spring, but did say his game is comparable.
“I think we are more similar, I would imagine. We are kind of both hard workers, so I have a lot of respect for his game,” Randle said. “But this week we’re opponents. That’s the opponent in you. We’re just trying to go up there and win.”
When asked what he learned from Murray, a player he backed up for two years, Randle said,
“Right now, I’m just trying to focus on me and perfecting my game, which I’ve been doing every day out there in practice and trying to make sure I’m the best Joe Randle on Sunday that I can be,” Randle said. “That’s my main focus. It’s not really about stats, the stats will come with execution for everybody on our team. We’ve got a void to fill this week, and we’re going to do our best to do that.”
Randle hopes for more opportunities this week than last Sunday when he had just 16 carries. And getting a lead early in the game could help that cause.
“That’s just how the game plays. Sometimes it’s a different type of game,” Randle said. “You got all those two minutes in there. You’re not going to run the ball a lot in two-minute situations. I’m excited about this week and just taking advantage of my opportunity. I’ve learned that if you make the most of the chances you get, you’ll stay out there.”
PRACTICE & INJURY REPORT: Recent Roster moves | Receiver Rotations
Tony Romo took the practice field in preparation for the Eagles without Dez Bryant.
His group of Terrance Williams, Cole Beasley, Devin Street and Lucky Whitehead will compete for lead receivers this week, with the chance of newly-acquired veteran Brice Butler getting himself ready for the game.
Dallas Cowboys starting left guard Ronald Leary is listed as doubtful for today’s game due to a groin strain that occurred in the season opener.
That means rookie La’el Collins could be active and available to play for the first time in his career.
Mackenzy Bernadeau, an eighth-year veteran, replaced Leary in the second half against the Giants and has the experience edge over Collins, who was inactive due to Bernadeau’s position flexibility at guard and center. Head coach Jason Garrett has said both would compete this week for playing time at left guard in case Leary can’t play.
Collins, the first-round talent who signed with the Cowboys in May after going undrafted, says he’ll be ready if needed.
“I feel like I’m physically capable of everything,” Collins said. “I’m just coming out here and taking one day at a time and just focusing on everything I need to focus on.”
Jason Garrett said La’el Collins will compete for reps and has a chance to start.
“There’ll be a competition between those guys this week and if Ron is not able to go,” Garrett said. “We’ll determine by week’s end who is going to play and what the rotation might be.”
Offensive tackle Darrion Weems is back with the Dallas Cowboys, this time on the practice squad.
Weems was waived from the active roster Tuesday and veteran offensive tackle Charles Brown replaced him.
To make room for Weems on the 10-man practice squad, the Cowboys waived Gus Johnson, the undrafted rookie running back who led the Cowboys in rushing in preseason.
Johnson had a good training camp filling in while Joseph Randle, Darren McFadden and Lance Dunbar all missed time with injuries. But running back has gotten crowded since Christine Michael was added to the active roster via trade last week.