Cowboys Gavin Escobar Lingering in Jason Witten’s Shadow

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Sep 22, 2013; Arlington, TX, USA; Dallas Cowboys tight end Gavin Escobar (89) scores a third quarter touchdown against the St. Louis Ram at AT&T Stadium. This touchdown was the first of Escobar;s career. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

When Gavin Escobar was drafted in the second round of the 2013 draft it was assumed he was the future Witten. You don’t need to have seen Escobar last year to realize he’s not going to compare. He’s a different beast to Witten altogether. Escobar’s 6-6 frame is longer and leaner than Witten who is 6-5 and heavier at 257lbs. Although Witten isn’t a mow them down type of blocker, he does the job. The problem with Escobar last year was he wasn’t effectively able to stop his opponent. Escobar has been trying to address his physicality over the break, returning to mini camp noticeably stronger. Jason Witten appeared suitably impressed saying:

“We know he can run the seams and can do some things in the passing game, but we need him to be solid in there. He’s worked hard. To see that package grow for him and being out on the field is going to be a lot better because he can now do both…I’m proud of him. I know he’s worked hard. It’s paying off for him and I think his role will continue to grow. We need that. We need that not only in the slot, but we need that other guy up the middle.”

A stronger more forceful Escobar will result in more time on the field, which going into his second year can only be a positive thing. As Cowboys fans we’re being unfair in instantly expecting Escobar to live up to Witten’s lofty abilities. New passing co-ordinator Scott Linehan acknowledges as much:

“The things he needs to work on, let’s work on those things but let’s not start with the idea he’s not getting on the field until he masters his weaknesses, because he’s got strengths”

A rookie from college isn’t going to be the finished article. From the first pick to the undrafted guys- they’ve all got learning to do. Escobar struggled physically last year and has worked to address that, now the coaches must do their job in developing him further. With just nine receptions in his rookie year, Escobar isn’t suddenly going to rock into double figure receptions each game in 2014. But if his acrobatic touchdown against Philadelphia Eagles last year is anything to go by we ought to see some progress. Get an improvement on his blocking abilities, then his receiver like skills could flourish. Tight end coach Mike Cope has been particularly complimentary about Escobar’s qualities:

“He’s got a fly trap for hands, he has tremendous catching ability. He’s got those basketball-type skills. He can contort his body and make the acrobatic catches. He’s a very, very high percentage catcher. If the ball gets to him, he can adjust to it. And he’s very brave running down the field. Because he’s a big target, they can hit about any part of the three feet on him. He’s courageous.”

We entered the 2013 season expecting to see the Cowboys use the multi-tight end 12 personnel package- hence the drafting of Escobar. Only the Houston Texans (42.06%) and the Cincinnati Bengal’s (42.32%) used the 12 package on more plays than the Cowboys (37.69%) last year, but you have to question how effectively used it was. Until Escobar gets on the field for more plays, I can’t see an increase in the amount the 12 package is used, or it’s effectiveness.

Witten is as inspiring off the field as he is on it. He’s a hardy trainer, mentally resilient and a quietly inspiring leader. Escobar may not be ready for the every down limelight yet, but who better to shadow then Witten? If as assumed we can have another two-three years of a consistent Witten whilst gradually increasing the plays Escobar. This can soften the blow of losing our future Hall of Famer. Long term Escobar may not be the answer, but as a second round draft investment the Cowboys must do more to coax the potential from him.

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