ARLINGTON, Texas -- Dwayne Harris’ head was spinning.Giddy just to be playing his first game for the Dallas Cowboys, the rookie receiver was learning on the fly, too.
Coach Jason Garrett had just pointed out a mistake Harris made running with the ball after his last reception, and now quarterback Stephen McGee was telling him to be ready to recognize a blitz and change his route if it came.
So, what did the kid do?
Harris indeed saw the blitz and made the adjustment. He wound up right where McGee expected and easily caught a short pass near the middle of the field. Then Harris took off, following Garrett’s advice all the way to the end zone for a 76-yard touchdown.
It was quite a highlight for the sixth-round pick from East Carolina. And it wasn’t even his best play of the night.
That came with 15 seconds left and the Cowboys driving for the win. On a fourth down, Harris got free in the end zone, jumped and grabbed a 13-yard pass from McGee, setting up a 2-point conversion that gave Dallas a 24-23 victory over the Denver Broncos on Thursday night.
“He stepped up,” McGee said. “Man, you love to see guys who come out and play well in the game.”
Harris wasn’t always a standout during training camp, and the collection of third-stringers that McGee leads hadn’t worked much on the two-minute drill. Thus, this was quite the debut.
“It says a lot for me—coming in, a little nervous, first game up under the lights, in front of millions, just to come out and play, have fun,” Harris said. “I think the coaches like what they saw in my performance. So it was a good overall game.”
Among the things still to be determined this preseason is how the Cowboys’ receiver rotation shakes out after starters Miles Austin and Dez Bryant. Kevin Ogletree is penciled in as No. 3.
Anyone else who makes it is going to have to stand out on special teams, too. Harris and Raymond Radway jumped to the head of that pack with their performances against Denver.
Harris caught all five passes thrown his way for 127 yards. The long-haired rookie who was the Conference USA player of the year last season also took a kickoff 32 yards, and lost a total of 10 yards on two punt returns.
“It was a great night for me, I feel good about it,” Harris said. “It’s just a momentum-builder.”
Radway, who is bigger and faster but far less polished, had kickoff returns of 40 and 22 yards and caught a 6-yard touchdown pass. He failed to catch two other balls, including a high one with no defenders nearby.
“He was impressive in camp right form the start,” Garrett said. “I’ll be honest with you, we didn’t know a ton about him. He is a guy who is big and can run. He has been impressive in making the transition. You’re hopeful they can take it from the practice field to the playing field and he was able to do that.”
Harris made the harder step of improving from practice field to the playing field.
All of his catches proved to be pivotal. The three that didn’t end up as touchdowns all came on scoring drives.
The first was a 26-yarder down the sideline that pushed the Cowboys to the Denver 17. After a short run, McGee went back to Harris on a slant for 10 more yards, setting up Radway’s touchdown.
Harris might have scored on the slant had he run toward the end zone instead of trying to dodge a defender. He did exactly that on his next reception, the blitz-beater.
Harris caught it around his own 30 and went straight down the field. There was nothing fancy about it, except the result.
“I was just thinking, ‘Don’t get caught from behind,”’ Harris said.
Garrett loved it, too.
“He has shown some flashes in training camp and practice where
he’s kind of a playmaker-type guy and I think he showed that again,” Garrett said. “He has a long way to go in terms of understanding how to be a receiver in the NFL and how to consistently get away form people, but I think you’ll see he has a knack for playing.”
The Cowboys were off Friday and will resume training camp at home on Saturday. For the next two weeks, they will be working out at either team headquarters or Cowboys Stadium.
Dallas came away from the preseason opener without any serious injuries, although there was a notable addition to the list of ailing players. Second-string tight end Martellus Bennett has a hamstring injury that kept him out of the Denver game.