Dallas' wide 'outs'

OXNARD, Calif. – As far as Drew Bledsoe was concerned, last Friday's training camp practice was essentially perfect.

Even as third-year wide receiver Patrick Crayton remained sidelined with a sprained right foot, the veteran quarterback was feeling good about what had been an infrequent scenario. Most of his projected receiving targets were on the field at the same time, most notably Terrell Owens and Terry Glenn.

Previously, if he wanted to get a glimpse of his main targets, he had to walk past the trainer's room.

"It was nice to finally have the full complement of receivers out there," Bledsoe said after throwing to a half-dozen teammates following practice.

Unfortunately for Bledsoe and the Dallas Cowboys, the good times were short-lived. Owens, the perennial All-Pro wideout, missed Saturday's practices because of tightness in his left hamstring and will not play in Monday's preseason contest against New Orleans.

The fact that Owens and Bledsoe must wait at least another week before working in a game together apparently doesn't have the principals in panic mode – "I'll be prepared" for the regular season, Owens said Friday – but the reality that Bledsoe has been spending practice time, and perhaps a couple of series Monday, throwing to players who could very well be on the chopping block next month should raise eyebrows.

With Owens sitting out practice for nearly two weeks, Crayton being sidelined and Glenn (foot blisters) missing practices and the preseason opener against Seattle, Bledsoe has worked primarily with a far less experienced group of receivers. Of the seven other wideouts currently on Dallas' roster, three are rookies and three others failed to log a reception in the NFL last season (including LaShaun Ward, who was signed nine days after the team released Ahmad Merritt). The seventh, Terrance Copper, had just one catch for five yards in 2005.

In Friday's practice, it was clear, at least schematically, the Cowboys were getting used to seeking out receivers other than Owens. During the opening series for the first team, no plays were called for Owens – Bledsoe threw to tight end Jason Witten and Glenn. Owens finally caught a pass during the second go-around, but it was apparent the emphasis was on getting the less-polished players involved.

"We need the young guys to step up," wide receivers coach Todd Haley said.

While Owens and others cheered and offered words of encouragement, both Haley and head coach Bill Parcells could be heard voicing their displeasure following a misplay by one of the young receivers. A nice, one-handed grab near the sideline on one play was offset by drops and bad route-running in other instances.

Two of the young receivers competing for roster spots have a better chance of making a contribution elsewhere in the regular season. Rookie Skyler Green and Jamaica Rector are competing with cornerback Terence Newman for the punt return job.

The circumstances are such that Dallas tried to address the need for help with a trade. The Cowboys went after Denver's Charlie Adams in exchange for a sixth-round pick in next year's draft. However, Adams failed his physical and the trade was rescinded on Friday.

So does this mean more emphasis on developing the young receivers on the roster? Not necessarily, according to Parcells.

"A couple are developing pretty well, but I think we need to look at the landscape a little," Parcells said.

Four months ago, Parcells couldn't have envisioned being in this position. Even though Glenn led the league with 18.3 yards per catch last season, the Cowboys ranked just 13th in passing offense, so upgrades were expected.

When it became clear that Owens wouldn't return to the division rival Eagles, speculation ran rampant that Dallas would make a run at the controversial wideout. Keyshawn Johnson had been productive (71 catches, 839 yards in '05), but lacked a key component Owens brings to the field – speed.

"I liked working with Keyshawn a lot, but T.O. brings a different dimension to the game," Bledsoe said.

Owens was signed during free agency, but Dallas didn't stop there in its efforts to refine the passing attack.

Tight end Anthony Fasano, who became a popular target in Notre Dame's wide-open attack last season, was drafted in the second round. Green was selected in the fourth round, and Cooper and Crayton were re-signed.

Ideally, the number of additions and returns would put pressure on Bledsoe to make the passing attack more efficient and productive. Instead, injuries have forced him to memorize even more names and jersey numbers.

Potentially a saving grace for the Cowboys and the injury woes at wide receiver is the depth at tight end. Witten, a returning Pro Bowler, is joined by Fasano, an addition that gives Bledsoe a big core group of targets with the smaller Glenn providing the speed.

Fasano knows how to get open, as his 47 catches for an average of 12.3 yards last season in college suggest. The quicker he gets acclimated to the offense, the harder it will be for defenses to double-cover the other three.

Assuming the foursome actually gets on – and stays on – the field at the same time in the regular season.

James C. Black is the NFL editor for Yahoo! Sports.

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