With tight end Jason Witten on the shelf, for at least the rest of preseason, the Dallas Cowboys’ rookie tight ends have a real opportunity to show us what they are capable of. There is quite a contrast between the two rookies next in line after veteran John Phillips. Let’s take a look at both of them.
James Hanna – At 6′ 4″, 249 pounds, this is a wide receiver trapped in a tight end’s body. But that’s not all bad, since Hanna possesses the kind of speed (4.46-40) that many wide receivers only wish they had. But the downside to that is that he is not as formidable of a blocker that one would like to see playing the tight end position.
He did not catch as many passes and was not as big a part of the game plan for the University of Oklahoma as one would think. But in viewing the highlight tape from his OU career, his big play ability is unquestionable. In one play in particular, a long catch and run for a touchdown, the defensive back was losing ground as he attempted to chase him down.
Hanna reportedly dropped the ball a lot at OU and started out that way with the Cowboys. But he seems to have gotten better in that area as training camp has progressed. He looked good in the first preseason game, catching two passes for 15 yards. Against San Diego, Hanna caught several passes on the outside, at least two of them for first downs, but he also had a holding penalty, the result of his struggles with blocking.
So how should the Cowboys use him? In a two tight end set, Hanna goes out for a pass while the other tight end stays in to block. If he ends up being more dependable than any of the third receiver candidates currently on the roster, Hanna could line up as a wide receiver, giving Tony Romo a big target to throw to on the outside. He can also be used in the slot, providing a hard to cover presence in the middle of the field. Based on the San Diego game, it does appear the Cowboys like to use him on plays to the outside.
Andrew Szczerba – In the first preseason game, Szczerba caught a pass for 20 yards. That shows he has the ability to get downfield and make the play. That’s pretty impressive for a tight end of his size. Against San Diego, he made a nice catch in the middle of the field. So, where does he fit in the Cowboys’ scheme of things?
He should be used much the same way Jason Witten is used. In a two tight end set, with either Witten or Phillips on the other side, one of the tight ends can stay in to block while the other goes out for a pass. This makes it difficult for the defense to key on a particular tight end.
It’s how it should have worked with Martellus Bennett, except Bennett never showed us much in the area and was mostly used as blocking tight end. Sczcerba can also be used on occasion as the slot receiver, providing Romo with a huge target running across the middle of the field. And the middle of the field is where the Cowboys appear to want to use him.
Let’s see how these two do the rest of preseason and see if they make a case for the Cowboys to keep both of them. Of course that decision will at least be partly determined by Witten’s availability when the season starts.