Seems crazy doesn’t it? But with the offensive success of the New England Patriots due to two tight ends running loose and making big plays, why not double down and go with four?
May 21, 2013; Irving, TX, USA; Dallas Cowboys tight end Jason Witten (82) participates in drills during organized team activities at Dallas Cowboys Headquarters. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports
Realistically, four is about as many as the Cowboys can afford to keep and you won’t necessarily see them all on the field at the same time. But it’s kind of a scary thought isn’t it? Imagine a formation with a running back and four tight ends. With one of tight end in the backfield to block like a fullback , another in the slot and one at each end of the line, it would definitely be advantage Cowboys. If they decide to run from this formation, that’s a lot more blocking at the point of attack than a set with wide receivers would have. And if they decide to pass, there is no way the defense has the right personnel on the field to cover four tight ends and a running back out in patterns.
I would not use the words stellar and blocker in the same sentence with these tight ends, but as mentioned above, the blocking would still be better than that of a wide receiver. And I would not be surprised to see Lawrence Vickers not make the team, with the Cowboys deciding to use multiple tight end formations to run from allowing them to eliminate the fullback position completely. That being said, let’s look at these tight ends individually.
Jason Witten is an elite tight end. He has been very productive over the course of his career and does not seem to be slowing much at the age of 31. He is an adequate blocker and stellar receiver. Unfortunately he doesn’t get into the end zone very much. Witten is coming off of his best year as a pro, with more than 100 catches and more than 1000 yards receiving, even after a slow start due to a lacerated spleen.
July 31, 2012; Oxnard, CA, USA; Dallas Cowboys tight end James Hanna (84) catches a pass during training camp drills. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports
James Hanna is one of the fastest players at his position in the NFL, if not the fastest. He is a bit smaller than many tight ends at 6’ 4” and 249 pounds, but that’s still a lot bigger than a wide receiver. Coming into the NFL, there was no doubt he had the speed to get downfield, but his hands were questionable, a perception aided by many dropped passes in practice. However, these issues seem to be resolved and Hanna should be a valuable and productive player this season after some success during limited playing time in 2012.
Gavin Escobar was taken in the second round of the 2013 NFL draft by the Cowboys. At 6’ 6” and with very long arms, Escobar makes for a big target over the middle, ready to snag passes from Romo. He does not have exceptional speed, nor is he a strong blocker. But the blocking can and will improve with proper instruction. He was deployed all over the field at San Diego State and the Cowboys will likely use him that way as well. He is described as a natural hands catcher, but he needs a little more fight in him when it comes to going after a contested ball.
Dante Rosario is an NFL veteran of seven years and is about the same physical size as Hanna. What Rosario brings to the table is not only the ability to be another pass catching tight end, but also experience in the Cowboy’s offense, which is virtually identical to the one that Norv Turner ran with the San Diego Chargers, where Rosario played last. In one game last year, he caught three touchdowns. Although the addition of Rosario promises more versatility and another big target for the offense, his claim to fame is special teams play, where he will be a big part of what the Cowboys do in 2013.
So there you have it, four tight ends with very similar skills that excel in the passing game. They are a good reason why you will see more multi tight end sets from the Cowboys this coming season and why you won’t likely see Lawrence Vickers on the roster when the season begins.