The Dallas Cowboys once again plan to try to employ primarily two tight end sets after using their 2nd round pick on tight end Gavin Escobar to lineup on the other side of Jason Witten.
Coaches are hopeful that Escobar, a 6-foot-6, 251-pound talent, can contribute immediately in the receiving game with his height and catching ability. However, coaches have readily admitted that Escobar needs to work on technique as a blocker. The 47th overall pick wasn’t drafted for his blocking ability, but his receiving ability as a possible red zone threat for Tony Romo.
In addition to Escobar, the Cowboys have second-year player James Hanna coming off a nice end of last season where he showed he can make plays downfield for Romo. With the emergence of Hanna, the Cowboys felt that backup John Phillips was expendable, allowing him to walk during free agency.
Hanna and Escobar will compete for that second tight end spot in these two tight end sets. It is far from a sure thing that the 47th overall pick, Escobar, will easily take the spot over Hanna. Coaches have expressed their confidence in Hanna’s playmaking ability, and Escobar is still only a rookie, with inferior blocking skills.
However, Escobar will win that spot here; you just can’t draft a player that high to be a backup. Ecobar’s talent-level as a receiver, and athletic ability give him a higher ceiling than the 6th round draft pick Hanna. I expect a big season from the rookie as Romo now has another fancy new toy in his aerial arsenal. Expect Hanna to contribute as well but in a lesser role.
The three tight ends mentioned above are all locks to make the 53-man roster. Another battle to watch in training camp will be for that fourth and final tight end spot. I believe that the Cowboys will carry four tight ends: two backups plus Witten and Escobar. With Hanna already secure on the roster, this battle will come down between free agent signing Dante Rosario and fullback Lawrence Vickers.
The Cowboys might ditch the fullback position as Vickers played in less than 20 snaps per game last season. However, they would have to figure out a way to fill the lead blocker role in short yardage situations.
Rosario possesses the advantage over Vickers at the moment, not for anything related to the tight end position. Rosario is a better special teams player than Vickers, finishing with more tackles last season while with San Diego. Also, the Cowboys can save $1.2 million in salary cap space by cutting Vickers. Rosario would only cost $620,000 against the salary cap.
In 2013, the Cowboys are confident to see another Pro Bowl season from the All-Pro Jason Witten. With their two tight end sets, the team hopes to make defenses pick between guarding the Pro Bowler, or rookie Gavin Escobar.
Although Escobar won’t see a high number of targets like Witten, the Cowboys will count on him to win the one-on-one battles to create holes in the defense. In theory, the two tight end sets sound like a good idea, but have generally failed in Dallas in previous seasons. They will need to be successful this season, as the sets will create mismatches in the middle of the field, and help Romo move the chains.
If all goes according to plan, and works according to theory, the two tight end sets can only make Romo and the passing game that much more dangerous in 2013.