This is the second post in my ongoing series reviewing the Dallas Cowboy’s roster position by position.
Jason Garrett has wanted to run a 12 personnel (two tight end) offense since he got here. Now with 4 candidates that could be an option. Granted, outside of Witten the other 3 aren’t the most proven players as of yet.
Jason Witten: Even if Jason Witten were to retire today, he would be hands down the best tight end in the history of the Cowboys. Also for the record I have him down in my mind as one if not the most underrated tight ends ever. In his ten seasons his stats read as: 806 receptions, 8,948 yards, and 44 touchdowns. Not to mention he is an excellent blocker. He’s also 31, and if Tony Gonzales can still be playing at 37, and he runs a little more physically than Witten, taking more hits, who knows how long Witten can last. Witten is the quintessential consummate professional, and the “Mr. Cowboy” of this generation. Mostly because like the old school Energizer Bunny, Witten just keeps on going. Just when it appeared a lacerated spleen of all things was what it would take to finally hamper his prolific production last year, he quietly posted an NFL-record 110 catches by a tight end, and a casual 1,039 yards – the second highest yardage total of his career. No big deal. Now this 12 personnel offense, implementing two tight ends on a regular basis, may affect Witten’s production slightly. There’s also the fact that he’s competing for touches with Dez Bryant, and after the second half of last year who knows how many times Bryant is going to get the rock this season. But at the same time, there were years when Witten was competing with the likes of Terrell Owens and Terry Glen for touches. Outside of any of that, Witten is still Romo’s security blanket, and at this point is the most consistent player on this team.
Gavin Escobar was the third tight end drafted overall, is a third round pick, and is the third playmaking tight end the Cowboys have tried to partner with Witten. (The subliminal message intended is he could end up being the number 3 tight end.) The first two, Anthony Fasano and Martellus Bennett…well…they weren’t the answer. On a side note, one of my favorite (of the many) stupid Stephen A. Smith rants for ESPN, he dogged the Cowboys for dumping Martellus Bennet because he was “balling” for the Giants last season. Because #1 I guess you can blame a team for dumping a guy who over four years only caught 85 balls for 846 yards and 4 touchdowns, with all of the touchdowns coming in his rookie season. And #2 “Balling” apparently equals being so average at best that the Giants saw no need to keep him around, and he will be playing for the Bears next year. But back on topic, after being selected 47th overall in April, expectations will be on Escobar to take the role of second-string tight end behind Witten. He is considered mainly an explosive pass-catcher, but not much of a blocker, after accumulating 1,646 total yards and 17 touchdowns during three years as at San Diego State. However I wouldn’t be surprised if the number two tight end job, at least early on ends up going to second year man James Hanna.
James Hanna: The Cowboys’ sixth-round pick in 2012 could develop into a steal as while most of his production was late in the year he showed good hands and route-running when given opportunities. Seven of his eight total receptions and 76 of his 86 total yards came in the final month of the season. Apparently he has put some good work in on tape at OTAs and minicamp – and wouldn’t you know it he was running the 2nd team behind Witten. But the harsh reality is that there is more money invested in rookie Escobar and if and when old Jerry gets his way, the player that he’s paying more is going to be on the field on a more regular basis by at least some point this year. But that’s not to say he couldn’t snatch the number 2 job to start out the year, its going to come down to who shows up in training camp.
Dante Rosario is going to be listed on the roster at tight ends, but he is a little more versatile than the others and will likely get opportunities at different offensive positions. Rosario has college and a little experience as a fullback in the pros and that could be huge towards making this team, especially considering last year’s starting fullback Lawrence Vickers will be limited by offseason surgery. Rosario also offers experience on special teams, another key factor in making a roster, where he has made 27 total tackles in his six seasons in the NFL. Rosario’s production isn’t really that spectacular, but he is by far Dallas’ second-most experienced tight end behind Witten. He has accumulated 1,106 total yards and eight touchdowns during his time with three different teams. What’s key to remember is that Escobar and Hanna are pass-catching tight ends, so Rosario’s experience as a fullback gives him an advantage and a legitimate shot to make this team if he has a solid camp performance.