Dallas Cowboys: Gavin Escobar

IRVING, Texas -- Tight end James Hanna has played 135 snaps, starting six of seven games this season.

He has yet to catch a pass.

Actually, Tony Romo has directed only one pass Hanna’s way -- and that was three games ago against New Orleans - but Jason Garrett says the tight end plays a valuable role for the Dallas Cowboys.

Hanna
Hanna spends much of his playing time as a blocking tight end, which should probably be considered impressive considering he’s just 249 pounds. By contrast, Jason Witten is 265 pounds.

“I think he’s a good player in the run game and a good player in the pass game," Jason Garrett said. "I think he’s underappreciated athletically, and I think he’s getting better technically as blocker.

“He’s a young player who continues to grow. He wants to be a good player and there’s a reason he’s playing. He’s worthy of having opportunities. We ask him to do a lot of things and some of it’s not fancy stuff that’s glamorous -- it’s some of the dirty work -- but he embraces it and gets better at it.”

One of the things you notice about the complementary players on this offense is they don't grumble about their roles. Sure, players such as receiver Dwayne Harris and running backs Lance Dunbar and Joseph Randle want to play more and Gavin Escobar, Cole Beasley and Terrance Williams would like more passes directed their way.

But Garrett constantly preaches the importance of the team and these players have bought in, which hasn’t always been the case for the Cowboys.

“We have guys who understand the importance of doing their job,” Garrett said. “A lot of times their job isn’t the glamorous thing to do, but they understand that helps us have success on that particular play and, ultimately, that helps us have success as a football team.

“Guys understand that. We have a lot of good players and a lot of good people on our team.”
SEATTLE -- The fireworks some thought would occur in the matchup between Dez Bryant and Richard Sherman didn’t materialize Sunday.

Bryant, the talented Dallas Cowboys wide receiver, lined up against Sherman, the Seahawks' All-Pro cornerback, unofficially 48 times.

Of those snaps, 26 were running plays. Quarterback Tony Romo directed six passes toward Bryant with Sherman covering him.

He completed two, a 23-yard reception in which Sherman was penalized for tripping and a 16-yard back shoulder fade in the fourth quarter.

[+] EnlargeDez Bryant
AP Photo/Elaine ThompsonDez Bryant made four catches Sunday, held in check somewhat by Seahawks All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman.
Bryant finished with four catches -- one in the second half -- and Sherman was penalized twice and had zero pass breakups, but was strong in the run game as he made eight tackles.

“One of the best, arguably the best, and I had to bring my A-game today,” Bryant said of Sherman. “And I made some plays and he made some plays, but at the end of the day, we got the W.”

The Cowboys didn’t need much of Bryant to win on Sunday, however. Seattle’s game plan had him covered often by cornerback Byron Maxwell.

When Maxwell went out with an ankle sprain in the first quarter, everything changed. Seattle didn’t want to use second-year cornerback Marcus Burley on Bryant, so Sherman shifted from staying at left corner to a player who followed Bryant all over the field.

“You didn’t want to put the young guy in that situation, and that’s what you got to do sometimes in games like that,” Sherman said. “He’s a great receiver and you don’t want to give him the matchup they desire and you switch things up on him.”

Sherman played Bryant in a variety of ways, but mainly in man-to-man. There were times when Bryant tried stop-and-go routes but nothing worked on a consistent basis.

“Well, it’s interesting, because I had yet to see them move Sherman around, and so they kind of ended up having to, and I know they had the corner hurt,” Romo said. “But they tracked Dez and they hadn’t done that before. I don’t think they necessarily changed their defense, but that was a little out of character for them.”

Romo didn’t throw any passes in Bryant’s direction with Sherman lined up on him on first-and-goal at the 5 late in the first quarter.

Romo directed two passes at tight end Gavin Escobar and the Cowboys ran with DeMarco Murray. Maxwell almost picked off a Romo pass at the goal line. Romo went back to Escobar on the next play for a 2-yard touchdown pass, the Cowboys’ first score of the game.

The Cowboys' big plays on offense came from second-year receiver Terrance Williams (two receptions, 70 yards) and, of course, Murray, who rushed for 115 yards.

Bryant was a good decoy at times, but for all the hype about this special matchup, nothing magical happened, just mutual respect between elite players.

“I knew me and Sherman would be going against each other a lot,” Bryant said. “Like I said, I knew I had to bring my A-game. I feel like I could have done a lot better job, [but] we got the W, so that’s all that matters.”

Gavin Escobar seeing decreased workload

October, 8, 2014
Oct 8
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IRVING, Texas -- Second-year tight end Gavin Escobar has become a forgotten man in the Dallas Cowboys' run-oriented offense the first five weeks of the season. While running back DeMarco Murray leads the NFL in rushing with his torrid pace, Escobar, a pass-catching tight end, sits.

Escobar
Escobar, a 2013 second-round pick, played just four snaps in last week's victory over the Houston Texans, the second fewest of his career.

"I guess it's tough to be patient," Escobar said. "You got to take advantage of your opportunities when your name is called, and that’s what I’m trying to do."

Escobar said he was surprised by the lack of playing time this season, but it's attributed to several things: Jason Witten is the starter and an elite tight end, Murray has had success on the ground and Escobar has struggled as a run blocker.

Tight end James Hanna gets more playing time than Escobar because he's a better blocker.

"We have a lot of plays and packages for him to get out there," Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said of Escobar. "Sometimes you get a chance to call those things. Other times you are doing different things to try to win the games. So he's ready. He is getting better. He is healthier than he has been. He did a good job fighting through his injury. Hopefully he will get some chances as we go here."

Escobar was dealing with a sprained AC joint in his right shoulder and a sprained MCL in his left knee that slowed his development. But now he's healthy and continues to wait for his chance.

"There are some things we think he does better than James Hanna," Garrett said. "There are some things James Hanna does better than he does. We try to give those guys opportunities to do what they do best when they are in those two-tight-end packages. We have done some three-tight-end stuff up to this point. He is a good player and he is getting better. And he is working hard at it. He will get opportunities as we go forward."

Escobar ready to make impact

September, 4, 2014
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Tight end Gavin Escobar said a phone call this offseason with Detroit tight end Joseph Fauria let him know he’d love play-caller Scott Linehan.

Escobar
 Fauria, who’s 6-foot-7 and 225 pounds, is built similarly to the 6-6, 251-poound Escobar, and he caught 18 passes for 207 yards and seven touchdowns last season. Fauria, an undrafted free agent, finished with a higher average per catch (11.5) and more touchdowns than Detroit starter Brandon Pettigrew.

Escobar, a second-round pick last season, caught only nine passes but three gained more than 20 yards. He also scored two touchdowns.

“Fauria said I’m going to love Linehan because he’s going to give me a chance to make plays,” Escobar said. “He told me he does a good job of creating mismatches.”

Look for the Cowboys to use formations that get Escobar, Jason Witten and Dez Bryant on the field together. Most teams will give Escobar single coverage in those situation.

“That would make sense to me,” Escobar said with a smile. “When I get opportunities, I have to take advantage of them. Then I might get some more.”
OXNARD, Calif. -- Three thoughts on Day 4 of Dallas Cowboys' training camp:

1) It was one play, just about as meaningless as can be, considering it was the first day players wore pads, but Morris Claiborne wanted to establish a tone.

Claiborne
First, he locked down Terrance Williams, forcing an incompletion. Then he jumped up and started woofing. Eventually, the players were separated.

It was the first time since he arrived that we’ve seen that type of feistiness from Claiborne.

Hey, whatever it takes. He’s been the epitome of a bust his first two seasons, allowing 70 completions in 117 attempts with only two interceptions and 13 pass deflections.

For a guy who was supposed to be the best defensive player in the 2012 draft that’s not nearly good enough.

Jason Garrett said he’s improved significantly during the offseason. It’s time for him to take it to the field.

Better secondary play is the fastest way for this defense to improve, since their pass rush remains suspect.

Smith
2) The Cowboys are moving closer to a long-term agreement with left tackle Tyron Smith, who’s going to deserve every nickel of whatever he gets.

Smith is man-handling the defensive ends on this roster, the way DeMarcus Ware used to destroy tackles, including Smith, during training camp.

Smith is only 23, so don’t be surprised if he signs a deal that’s nine or 10 years long. When he does, it’ll be interesting to see if Dez Bryant can continue to ignore his contract situation and play well.

After all, the club has already taken care of Sean Lee, who was drafted in the second round of the 2010 draft. Bryant was the Cowboys’ first-round pick.

3) Kyle Wilber spent his first two seasons bouncing around between outside linebacker in the 3-4 and weakside defensive end.

Injuries last season created some playing time for him at strongside linebacker and the Cowboys suddenly found a player.

Wilber has the strength to hold the edge and consistently force running plays inside, in part because of the time he spent at defensive end, and he made several important plays for the Cowboys last season.

He finished the season with 44 tackles and two sacks, while starting six games.

34

The Cowboys were tied for 25th in the NFL with 34 sacks. Only five teams had fewer.

Their sack total was 10 fewer than the average 2013 playoff team.

Teams that don’t get many sacks often say they’re overrated. Well, they’re not. Pressure is good, but sacks are a momentum-changer and usually result in a punt at the end of the drive.

You must rush the passer and put quarterbacks under duress, or it’s hard to force turnovers and win games.

The Cowboys are counting on defensive Henry Melton, who missed the last 13 games with a torn ACL, to provide pressure up the middle. He has been a terrific pass-rusher, and they need him to command double teams to help other players get to the quarterback.

Player to Watch: Gavin Escobar

The Cowboys wasted Escobar’s rookie season. Hopefully, they’ve learned their lesson.

It’s dumb to ask a tight end who should excel at working from the slot and creating mismatches with his size to be the same type of player as Jason Witten.

Escobar can help this team by making plays downfield and giving Tony Romo one more vertical threat.

He caught nine passes for 134 yards and two touchdowns. He can be a playmaker, if Scott Linehan gives him a chance to do it. If not, he’ll be a wasted pick.

Dallas Cowboys' projected roster

July, 18, 2014
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IRVING, Texas -- Examining the Dallas Cowboys' roster:

QUARTERBACKS (2)

The Kyle Orton watch is over now that the Cowboys released the veteran backup. The timing of it is a surprise, and Jason Garrett spoke optimistically all offseason about Orton’s return. Now the Cowboys turn their attention to Weeden as Romo’s backup. Weeden had a productive spring, running the first-team offense as Romo recovered from back surgery. The Cowboys haven’t kept a third quarterback since 2011, and Caleb Hanie and Dustin Vaughan will have work to do to crack the 53-man roster

RUNNING BACKS (4)


The last two spots could be up in the air. Randle, a fifth-round choice, will be pushed by free-agent pickup Ryan Williams in the preseason. Williams, a former second-round pick, was not able to stay healthy in Arizona. The Cowboys have given him a chance to win a backup job. Clutts did a nice job as a late-season pickup in 2013. He is more versatile than undrafted rookie J.C. Copeland, but I don’t think having a fullback on the 53-man roster is set in stone.

WIDE RECEIVERS (5)


I debated whether to go with a sixth, but later on you will see why I stuck with five. It is possible the Cowboys will look for a veteran in the final cuts if they feel limited by their depth because of injury, but I think they like the overall group. They will work their No. 3 receiver role on a rotation basis, but Beasley could emerge as a bigger threat on third down. There will be a lot of eyes on Williams, who takes over the No. 2 role on a full-time basis. Bryant is set for another Pro Bowl-type season.

TIGHT ENDS (3)


Witten remains near the top of the game at his position. His total catches were down last year, but his touchdowns were up. Escobar’s role figures to expand, especially as a No. 3-type receiver. Hanna has the inside track on the third spot, but I have a feeling the Cowboys will be looking for more of a traditional blocker, especially if they want to get away from the fullback spot to open up a role elsewhere.

OFFENSIVE LINE (9)

The top six are set, with Bernadeau or Leary fighting it out for the left guard position and the loser becoming the top backup on the interior. Parnell is in the final year of his deal, and if Weems develops, I wonder if the Cowboys would look for a trading partner. They have invested a lot in Parnell in time and money for him to be a backup, so it would be a risk, but perhaps one worth taking. Weems had a decent offseason. Clarke gets the nod as the No. 9 guy right now, but veteran Uche Nwaneri could work his way into the mix.

DEFENSIVE LINE (10)

I think the Cowboys will go heavy here, especially considering what happened last year and the numbers they have thrown at the position this year. Four of them are rookies -- Lawrence, Gardner, Bishop and Coleman. I believe Anthony Spencer and possibly Amobi Okoye will start the year on the physically unable to perform list, so they don’t make this 53-man roster with the idea that they join the team after the sixth game of the season. Wilson garnered the last spot over a 2013 starter, Nick Hayden, but there will be a few players in the mix for the final few spots, including Ben Bass.

LINEBACKER (7)

Carrying seven linebackers might be a little heavy, but I have special teams in mind when it comes to Will Smith. He benefits from having only two quarterbacks on the 53-man roster. The Cowboys spent the offseason telling us games are won and lost up front, so carrying an extra offensive or defensive linemen could get in this mix as well. McClain gets a spot only because of his experience. Backups of Holloman, Hitchens and Smith would be tough considering their youth, and I can see the Cowboys looking for veteran backup help around the final cut dates.

CORNERBACK (5)


Carr and Claiborne have to play exceptionally well for this defense to have a chance, and they might have to do it without much help from a consistent pass rush. Scandrick is coming off his best season, and Claiborne will have to beat him out to reclaim the starting spot. Moore can play inside and out. Mitchell showed in his limited offseason work that he can make plays. Last year’s fourth-round pick, B.W. Webb, will have to fight for a spot. Based on his offseason work, he did not make the cut for this roster.

SAFETY (5)

Church is the only player without questions. The Cowboys are projecting the other four with their biggest bet on Wilcox. He enters camp as the starter, but he could be pushed by Heath and Hamilton. Dixon will be more of a special-teams threat if he is to make the roster. Hamilton showed some playmaking in the offseason. No Matt Johnson? Not right now, especially after he couldn’t practice -- again -- for most of the offseason.

SPECIALISTS (3)


Perhaps Cody Mandell can push Jones, but Jones is the more consistent punter and has a good rapport as a holder for Bailey. Ladouceur remains one of the best long-snappers in the game. This group won’t change during the summer unless there is an injury.

Cowboys to add TE Dallas Walker

July, 17, 2014
Jul 17
12:25
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IRVING, Texas -- The Dallas Cowboys did not wait long to fill Kyle Orton's roster spot, adding tight end Dallas Walker on Thursday.

Walker worked out for the Cowboys in June along with tight end Dominique Jones and guards DeMarcus Love and Garrett Reynolds, but the team passed at the time. Orton was officially released on Wednesday.

Walker spent time last season with the San Diego Chargers after going undrafted in 2012. He started his college career at Memphis as a quarterback and receiver but played three years at Western Michigan as a tight end.

The Cowboys were looking to add numbers to the tight end spot for training camp with only Jason Witten, Gavin Escobar, James Hanna and Jordan Najvar on the roster.

Strong offseason fueling Brandon Weeden

July, 17, 2014
Jul 17
11:05
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IRVING, Texas – Brandon Weeden's bid to be the Dallas Cowboys’ No. 2 quarterback in 2014 got a lot easier when the club decided to release Kyle Orton.

Weeden
Barring something unforeseen, Weeden, who signed a two-year deal in the offseason, will be Tony Romo’s backup. But Weeden does not look at the move as “weight off my shoulders.”

“Given the situation Kyle has been in in previous years in Dallas, he’s been the backup quarterback, so I think if he was there it would be one more obstacle I would have to kind of hurdle,” Weeden said. “But at the same time I can’t really get wrapped up in putting all of my attention on that. I need to do what I did in the [organized team activities] and continue to play well and get better. I think hopefully things will work out that way regardless.”

The Cowboys felt confident enough to jettison Orton, who skipped the entire offseason program and minicamp, in part because of what Weeden did in the spring. With Romo recovering from back surgery and being kept out of competitive drills and Orton missing, Weeden took all of the first-team snaps.

“I think the reps I got in the OTAs were kind of irreplaceable,” Weeden said. “If I was in a situation where God forbid something happened to Tony and I’m asked to play, those are the guys I’m going to battle with, so those reps I got were invaluable. I know I won’t get many of those in [training] camp, but fortunately I had 12 practices where I was able to get out with those guys. Now it’s, ‘Let’s get to work.’ I’m ready to get to California and get things rolling.”

Orton had the same benefit last year of taking all of the offseason snaps in 2013 as Romo recovered from surgery to remove a cyst from his back. When Romo hurt his back in Week 16 against the Washington Redskins, he was able to step into the season finale against the Philadelphia Eagles and play well. He completed 30 of 46 passes for 358 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions, but a late turnover sealed the Cowboys’ loss.

“[Gavin] Escobar and [Jason] Witten are two totally different players. Dez [Bryant] and Terrance [Williams] are two totally different players,” Weeden said. “You kind of learn what certain guys’ strengths are and little nuances of what they do. That’s the thing more than anything. You kind of get a feel for what Dez likes on fades and all that stuff a certain way where Terrance might like it another way. You’ve got to learn what each guy likes. When you’re with so many new guys it takes time. You always want more time, but it’s nice to have the reps I did get there to get a head start.”

Filling out Cowboys' roster: Tight ends

July, 17, 2014
Jul 17
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Constructing a 53-man roster is a difficult process, piecing together 10 positions groups and matching up present needs with future production of older and younger players. This week we take a look at constructing the Dallas Cowboys' roster.

Tight ends

Witten
Escobar
On the roster: Jason Witten, Gavin Escobar, James Hanna, Jordan Najvar

Locks: Witten, Escobar

Virtual lock: Hanna

Need help: Najvar

How many fit? The Cowboys have carried four tight ends in the past, doing it last year with Andre Smith serving as the fourth, and they could do it again this year if they find the right fit from a player not currently on the roster.

As of today, they would go with three: Witten, Escobar and Hanna. Witten's catches were down last year (73 from 110), but his touchdowns were up (eight from three). He still remains a threat in the passing game and a focal point of defenses. Escobar will get more chances to prove he can be a factor this year. Hanna came to the Cowboys known for his speed but they have yet to put him in position to use it, serving mostly as the second tight end last year.

Hanna
The Cowboys have a need for a blocking tight end that would take some of the load off of Witten. That's not Escobar's forte and that's not Hanna's strength. They had the blocker they needed in Smith last year, but he barely saw the field before he was released. They need a Dan Campbell or Sean Ryan type in order to be able to move Witten off the line in situations to keep the playbook open.

If they add another tight end, then that would put an end having a fullback on the roster. There just aren't enough snaps to carry a fourth tight end or fullback to justify carrying both spots. The tiebreaker would be who can play special teams better.

The series:

Quarterbacks
Specialists
Running backs
Safeties
Wide receivers
Cornerbacks

What to do with Cowboys' roster spot?

July, 16, 2014
Jul 16
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IRVING, Texas -- The Dallas Cowboys' decision to part ways with backup quarterback Kyle Orton has opened up a spot on the 90-man roster for training camp.

Orton
Josh Brent's name has come up as a possible fill-in, but sources say there is nothing new on that front. Brent remains at a treatment facility after he was released from county jail for his involvement in a 2012 car accident that killed his friend and teammate Jerry Brown.

The Cowboys have not ruled out the possibility of re-signing Brent if he wants to re-start his NFL career, but they have more pressing needs to fill with training camp starting next week.

At this point in the summer, finding players is difficult. With teams carrying 90 players, there are only so many available. The pool is not filled with stars. It’s filled mostly with guys you hope can get you through a few days of practice, limit the amount of snaps you give your regulars and perhaps develop into contributors.

Tight end remains a position of need. The Cowboys have Jason Witten, Gavin Escobar, James Hanna and Jordan Najvar. They need more of a blocker in the group, not only on the 90-man roster but perhaps the 53-man roster.

The Cowboys like to carry a high number of receivers and corners because of the amount of running they do in training camp. They have 10 receivers and eight cornerbacks under contract. Again, the idea isn’t to sign a name veteran to make the masses happy at this point. It’s about practice (said in best Allen Iverson voice).

The Cowboys could also gain a spot if Amobi Okoye is not fully cleared for drills. He spent most of the offseason with the team, working out, but he did not take the field as he attempts a return from a personal medical issue. Including Okoye, the Cowboys have 16 defensive linemen on the roster.

Cowboys' Twitter mailbag, Part 2

July, 12, 2014
Jul 12
12:00
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IRVING, Texas – Part 2 of the Dallas Cowboys' Twitter mailbag is ready.

In it we discuss:
If you want to check out Part 1, click here.

Away we go:

@toddarcher: I believe Gavin Escobar will play a lot more in 2014 than he did as a rookie but it won't come at the expense of Jason Witten. Witten will still play 98 percent of the snaps unless there is an injury or a blowout or three. Escobar's ascension isn't about Witten's descent. It's about using his skills to the fullest and trying to find a role for him. I've said this before here but I don't think Escobar will be a true on-the-line tight end. That doesn't mean he won't play there. It just means he is more Jimmy Graham in style (not ability) than Witten. That's OK. There's nothing wrong with that. Whenever Witten moves on, the Cowboys will need to find more than one guy to replace him. @toddarcher: Sure you can. I know everybody loves the "defense wins championships," adage, but if you're defining winning as only taking home a Super Bowl then I think that's a little narrow view. The New England Patriots, Denver Broncos, New Orleans Saints and Green Bay Packers are carried by their offenses. They've won. Would you take that kind of winning around here with the Cowboys? Sure. The Saints won the Super Bowl in 2009. The Packers won it in 2010. The Patriots last won one in 2004 but have gotten to the big game. The Broncos lost in it in 2013. Since the Cowboys have won one playoff game in 475 years (has it been that long?), I think fans would take the winning those teams have had with offensive-oriented teams. @toddarcher: Lance Dunbar didn't miss a snap in the offseason so that tells me he is fully recovered from the knee injury that ended his season last year on Thanksgiving. He'll have the third-down back role. We saw Scott Linehan use Dunbar in a number of different ways in the spring. He can be good in the screen game because he's a space player. He has the ability to be a change of pace runner for DeMarco Murray. But does this mean he will see a huge role? Not necessarily because I think Murray will still be on the field for the bulk of the game. And if something happens to Murray, I think they would keep Dunbar in the third down role, expand it a little, but use Joseph Randle or Ryan Williams, whoever wins the third back job, as the every-down back. @toddarcher: Great question. I think Dwayne Harris' role will stay the same. He will be used when they go to 11 personnel at times and when they go empty. He plays a vital role and he's dependable. The quarterback likes to throw to him. I think part of the reason why you didn't hear much about him in the offseason is because he didn't do any team drills in the spring because of a shoulder surgery. We weren't able to see him do anything with Linehan on offense, so it was put on the backburner. I believe you'll see him have a role in the slot. He's a really good blocker in there. He is also one of the more dangerous punt and kick return guys in the league. 

Cowboys chat recap: Put heat on coaches

July, 10, 2014
Jul 10
2:00
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IRVING, Texas -- After a little break, we were back chatting on SportsNation on Wednesday and touched on a number of topics.
  • Why the Cowboys go to Oxnard, California, for training camp
  • Why Kyle Orton will be at training camp
  • Why the way Scott Linehan and Jason Garrett manage the game matters
  • Why Calvin Johnson helps Dez Bryant this year

If you want to read the full chat, click here, but I want to delve more into one topic.
Cris A. (Dallas TX): What prevented Gavin Escobar to see so little playing time last year, his poor pass blocking or the coaches not finding a way to fit him in the offense?

Todd Archer: I'd say both. But here's where I think we'll see a difference with Linehan: he will coach to guys' strengths. It won't be about what Escobar can't do, but what he can do. It won't be about what [Cole] Beasley can't do but what he can do. I think the Cowboys coached a little scared in the past when it came to things like that. Do I think Escobar will be a great on-the-line tight end? Not really. He just doesn't have the body type to play the line. He's not that kind of player. But I think he can be an effective player if used right.

This was just a stream of consciousness in the chat, but it got me to thinking about the Cowboys’ offense the past few years. I think the coaches got bogged down into things guys couldn’t do as opposed to what they could do. Escobar is a good example of that. They knew he wasn’t much of a blocker when he was picked but they really didn't do anything to put his skills to work as a rookie. If he couldn’t block, he couldn’t be counted on. Despite their professed love for “12 personnel,” they ran the same stuff they did when Anthony Fasano, Martellus Bennett or John Phillips was the backup tight end. They didn’t invent ways to use Escobar differently. So what is the natural reaction? Well, Escobar is a bust. That’s not exactly fair to the kid. The coaches bear some responsibility for not utilizing his talents. To a smaller degree, they have done the same with Bryant. They haven’t moved him around because they were unsure he could play different spots or get in the slot. This offseason Bryant has moved around more. We saw Cole Beasley line up some outside. We’ve seen running backs line up in the slot.

To me, the coaches have been too reactive to the defense, despite Garrett saying they want to dictate the action. They haven’t. Now, they have been productive in yards and points and sometimes both over the years. But could they have been better? A lot better? There didn’t seem to be a lot of innovation to the offense because the answer was always, "trust the system." Well, the system sometimes should bend for the players in it. I don’t believe the Cowboys have done that enough.

But here’s a guess: Linehan will help change that, especially on game day.

Best case/worst case: Gavin Escobar

July, 7, 2014
Jul 7
1:00
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IRVING, Texas -- In order to break out of their 8-8 doldrums, the Dallas Cowboys will need a lot to go right in 2014.

This week we take a best-case, worst-case look at five offensive and defensive players that will go a long way in shaping the Cowboys' season.
Gavin Escobar

Escobar
Best-case: He catches 30-35 passes

Jason Witten simply doesn't come off the field. He's too valuable to come off the field. He can set the edge in the running game. He can pick up critical first downs, and last year he was finally used in the red zone. Expecting Escobar to have a big-time season is folly. If he can average 2-3 catches a game, become a mismatch in the red zone and stretch the middle of the field, then the Cowboys will have a viable weapon. Maybe he never should have been taken in the second round, but the Cowboys have to make it work. Escobar has to show early in the summer that he can be counted on. Tony Romo has to be able to trust him. He made some flash plays in little playing time as a rookie. The Cowboys will have the chance to have a rotation with their slot players. In some respects, Escobar is a tight end in a wide receiver's role. Along with Cole Beasley, Dwayne Harris and perhaps Devin Street, the Cowboys can attack in different ways. Plus, Escobar's blocking is less of an issue. He can be a get-in-the-way blocker as opposed to a knock-the-guy-down blocker. With the weapons the Cowboys have on offense, 30-35 catches would mean the unit has clicked quite well in 2014.

Worst-case: The coaches don't trust him

As a rookie, Martellus Bennett scored four touchdowns and did not catch one in the next three seasons. His best year came in 2010 when he caught 33 passes. He has since gone on to bigger and better things with the New York Giants and Chicago Bears. With Witten, Escobar will never play a ton of snaps but that doesn't mean he can't play an effective role. He showed last year, even with just nine catches, he can stretch the seams. He has good hands, too. But the Cowboys can't expect him to become an in-line blocker to the point where he spells Witten. It's not the way he is built. If the coaches insist on making him a complete tight end, then the team has wasted another second-round pick. The Cowboys would be better served to find more of a blocking tight end during camp than to put Escobar, who has added a little bit of bulk to his frame, on the line most of the time. This is where the creativity of new playcaller Scott Linehan will have to come into play. The Cowboys were unable to unlock the 12 personnel group the way they wanted with Bennett in part because of their lack of creativity and Bennett's poor play. They need to understand what Escobar is and use his traits to the fullest.
IRVING, Texas – When Jason Garrett said goodbye to us all after the Dallas Cowboys’ minicamp ended on June 19, he was asked about the state of the roster.

“We’ll continue to make evaluations of individual guys, where they stack up, if they belong on the roster, who else is on the landscape,” Garrett said then. “You’re always trying to do that. Feel good about how guys have come in here and worked. A lot of young guys got a lot of work over the course of the OTAs and minicamp. A lot of veteran players worked hard, felt competition. That’s a good thing for our team and we want to continue to do that. Whether the competition comes from within or without, it’s our job to make sure we’re always trying to put the most competitive situation available out there on our roster.”

[+] EnlargeRolando McClain
AP Photo/Paul SpinelliThe Cowboys hope recent acquisition Rolando McClain can help fill the void left by the injury to Sean Lee.
Since then the Cowboys have added two veterans: guard Uche Nwaneri and linebacker Rolando McClain.

The player acquisition business is 365 days a year. It never stops.

In Nwaneri the Cowboys have a veteran with 92 starts to his credit. The loser of the left guard battle between Mackenzy Bernadeau and Ronald Leary would be the top backup on the inside. The other backup candidates are inexperienced with Brian Clarke, Andre Cureton and Ronald Patrick. At the least, Nwaneri gives the Cowboys a lineman to help the backup quarterbacks have a chance in preseason games. At the best, he is a possible starter.

Trading for McClain is something of a gamble because of his past and his two forays into retirement. Does he truly want to play? If he does, then maybe the Cowboys have hit on a player who will be just 25 years old when training camp begins at a position of need with Sean Lee out for the year.

For all of the talk of Brian Urlacher joining the Cowboys, signing a 36-year-old with a bad knee after sitting out one year made less sense than adding a soon-to-be 25-year-old who sat out a season.

So where do the Cowboys look next for help before camp starts?

In the minicamp post referenced earlier, I mentioned they could look at linebacker, interior offensive line and tight end for help. Two of the three have been checked off. All that is left is tight end.

Why tight end?

They have a need for a blocker behind Jason Witten. That’s not Gavin Escobar’s forte. James Hanna is willing but that’s not his strength either. Jordan Najvar is an undrafted free agent. There aren’t many current candidates available to fit the bill in price or job description, but the Cowboys could spend time in training camp looking at other rosters for help.

Minicamp observations: Hamilton shines

June, 19, 2014
Jun 19
5:00
PM ET
ARLINGTON, Texas -- The Dallas Cowboys concluded their final minicamp practice Thursday at AT&T Stadium with a lunch for the players and coaches’ families, but the 90-minute session had some highlights worth noting.
  • Safety Jakar Hamilton came up with a nice interception after linebacker Anthony Hitchens deflected a Dustin Vaughan throw down the seam to wide receiver Devin Street. Hamilton instinctively stuck one hand in the air and then corralled the ball as he turned up field. Hamilton later did a nice job being in position to force an off-target throw to Dez Bryant in the slot.
  • Bryant
    Bryant
    From our vantage point it was hard to tell if Bryant was able to get his feet down for a touchdown catch on a fade pass from Brandon Weeden over Morris Claiborne, but it was an impressive athletic feat. Jason Witten might have had a TD catch from Weeden in seven-on-seven drills over safety J.J. Wilcox, but the replay officials might have overturned it with one foot appearing out of bounds.
  • Left tackle Tyron Smith sealed off the edge to allow running back Lance Dunbar to scamper in for a touchdown run in the red zone. Dunbar had a touchdown run with the second-team offense in a two-minute situation.
  • Rookie punter Cody Mandell scraped the center-hung digital board three times during special teams’ drills. He did the same when he played in Arlington while at Alabama. On Thursday, however, Jason Garrett said the board was lower than its normal 90 feet. The board was lowered for a recent George Strait concert.
  • Quarterback Caleb Hanie was sharp in his situational work, completing four of his five passes, including a nice corner route to Street for a decent gain. One of Dunbar’s touchdowns was set up by a pass interference penalty on Terrance Mitchell, who was covering Street.
  • Linebacker Orie Lemon did a nice job breaking up a goal-line throw to tight end Gavin Escobar in seven-on-seven work with the second team. Weeden was able to complete the same route to James Hanna in the first-team work with a nice fastball.

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