Thursday, June 27, 2013
Cowboys hop on tight end bandwagon
By Dan Graziano
ESPNDallas.com's position series on the Dallas Cowboys takes a look today at tight end, where Jason Witten remains one of the best in the NFL but there is change behind him on the depth chart. As Tim MacMahon writes, the Cowboys took tight end Gavin Escobar in the second round this year not as an eventual Witten replacement but in the hope that he could complement Witten and give them the ability to use more two-tight end sets. One of the interesting effects of this -- as well as the addition of Dante Rosario and the development of 2012 sixth-rounder James Hanna -- is that the Cowboys could eliminate the fullback position from their running game:
Late free-agent addition Dante Rosario and fullback Lawrence Vickers, who missed offseason workouts after undergoing back surgery, are probably competing for a roster spot. The Cowboys are seriously considering phasing out the fullback position, although they’d have to figure out a way to fill the lead-blocker role in short-yardage situations. Fullback has been a part-time position, with Vickers averaging less than 20 snaps per game last season.
Rosario has an edge over Vickers for two reasons not related to the Valley Ranch tight-end craze.
First, Rosario has proven himself capable of being a special teams contributor while playing for new special teams coordinator Rich Bisaccia the past two seasons in San Diego. Rosario had five tackles, a fumble recovery and a blocked punt on special teams for the Chargers last season. Vickers had only one special teams tackle for the Cowboys.
Second, the Cowboys can create $1.2 million in cap space by cutting Vickers, money that could be useful for linebacker Sean Lee’s long-term contract extension. Rosario would only count $620,000 against the cap.
Valley Ranch isn't the only place in the NFL where there's a "tight end craze" these days. Increased emphasis on that position is a league-wide trend, as coaches continue to find ways to use tight ends to diversify their passing offenses and create mismatches at the second and third levels of opposing defenses. The Cowboys will need to get creative in order to make this work. They'll need Escobar to develop quickly. And they'll need someone in their tight end meeting room to develop as a reliable blocker in the run game. But if all of those things come through for them, this could be a significant and beneficial change for the Dallas offense as early as this season.