Cowboys' returner search will be wide; Cole Beasley, Lucky Whitehead lead mix

OXNARD, Calif. -- Dwayne Harris played a major role for the Dallas Cowboys last year, serving as the punt and kickoff returner and leading the team with 18 special teams tackles.

With Harris now a member of the New York Giants, the Cowboys might need to find three different players to do what he did for them in 2014.

“Ask any question you want about who is on our team,” special teams coordinator Rich Bisaccia said.

He wasn’t trying to be rude. He just didn’t feel it was necessary to relive Harris’ accomplishments in the face of what the Cowboys need to do in 2015.

So what about those returners on the team?

Going into the first preseason game Thursday against the San Diego Chargers, Bisaccia has a number of players he wants to see. An ankle injury likely will keep Lance Dunbar, the lead kick return option, out of the Chargers game, but he has J.J. Wilcox, Lucky Whitehead, Reggie Dunn, Tyler Patmon, Nick Harwell and Lache Seastrunk as options.

For punts, he has Cole Beasley and Whitehead as options. Like Jason Garrett, Bisaccia won’t rule out using Dez Bryant as a punt returner depending on time and score of regular season games.

While Bisaccia might not want to talk about Harris, he did alter games for the Cowboys with his ability to change field position. He was more effective in 2013 than he was in 2014, but he had moments.

Harris’s physical running style and elusiveness made him a good fit on punt and kickoff returns.

“I think size to some degree, you’d like a guy who has a little bit more sturdiness to him because he’s getting hit at times at a faster speed on kickoff return,” Bisaccia said. “Punt return, sometimes a guy can be a little bit more shifty and still be successful.

“The biggest thing on punt return is the decision the guy makes. When am I going to fair catch? When am I going to return it? Where am I on the field? What’s the situation of the game? How much time is on the clock? Are we ahead? Are we behind? Do we need the ball back? Can we get a fair catch, play clock? When it’s kickoff return, we just kind of have a barometer as to we’re either coming out or we’re not. But we’d like sturdy guys that can kind of keep their balance and protect the ball regardless of which one you’re playing.”

Beasley and Whitehead offer different styles. Beasley might be quicker. Whitehead might be faster. But both have caught Bisaccia’s eye. Beasley has returned 10 punts in his first three seasons for an average of 6.8 yards. Whitehead averaged 16.4 yards per punt return last year at Florida Atlantic with a 76-yard touchdown to his credit.

On Beasley: “What do I think of him? I love him,” Bisaccia said. “I absolutely love him. Period. Just love Beasley. No matter what he does, he’s going to do it really well and fast and quick and can’t touch him in a phone booth.”

On the dreadlocked Whitehead: “He has great hair, man. Great hair. I wish he’d get some blue in that stuff instead of red. He’s real fast. He’s strong. He’s smart. He loves football. He spent a lot of time kind of learning our system and we’re excited to see him play.”