By Matthew Postins
Most Dallas Cowboys fans know that Dwayne Harris is a weapon. That was easy to see last season when he returned a punt for a touchdown against the Philadelphia Eagles.
But Sunday was a coming out party for Harris, the third-year pro from East Carolina who practically wrote the Pirates’ record book for returns and was once the Conference USA Special Teams Player of the Year and overall MVP in consecutive seasons.
On a national stage the rest of the country found out what Dallas Cowboys fans already appreciate about Harris – his ability to change the course of a game.
Harris is part of the reason that the Cowboys’ total offense numbers looked so lackluster as it beat the Washington Redskins, 31-16.
Harris returned a punt 86 yards for a score in the first half. Harris returned a kickoff 90 yards in the second half to set up Tony Romo’s touchdown pass to Terrance Williams.
Both of the returns were game-changers. Harris finished with 222 return yards. A little perspective? The Dallas Cowboys had 213 yards in total offense.
Harris outgained the entire Cowboys offense? Wow.
“He’s very steady,” Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett said Monday. “He has a good knack for the game and running north to south. He sets up his blocks well and he has a great feel for running in open space. It’s not strange to him. He had great blocking (last night) and he took full advantage of it.”
Here’s another fun fact. Harris has been the Cowboys’ full-time kickoff and punt returner for less than a full season’s worth of games and he already has two returns for touchdowns. The two players he replaced last year – Dez Bryant (punts) and Felix Jones (kickoffs) – combined for three with the Dallas Cowboys. Bryan held the job for two-and-a-half years and Jones held it for five.
It makes you wonder why it took the Cowboys so long to hand the job over to the former sixth-round pick. In fact, the Cowboys cut Harris at one point his rookie season and signed him to the practice squad, thereby exposing him to every other team in the NFL, if they wanted to sign him and make him a member of their active roster.
The Dallas Cowboys are darn lucky no one wanted to because now they have a Pro Bowl-caliber returner who has already been honored as NFC Special Teams Player of the Week once this season. It would seem a second honor is on the way.
Plus, the Cowboys value Harris so much they use him as a gunner on coverage units, which was a big part of the reason he earned the Week 1 honor.
“He can defeat guys on the end in coverage,” Garrett said. “He’s a hard matchup because he plays faster than his timed speed.”
The one thing no one is talking about is that Harris, technically a wide receiver, didn’t catch a single pass against Washington.
But when you impact the game like Harris did it’s hard to quibble with his performance.
Those big plays on special teams mattered more than any 10 receptions could have against the Redskins.
And the Dallas Cowboys hope Harris keeps them coming.