Did the Dallas Cowboys hide Rico Gathers in 2017?
The Dallas Cowboys kept tight end Rico Gathers on injured reserve in 2017, even after he was cleared to play. Did the team try to hide him for 2018?
Dallas Cowboys tight end Rico Gathers revealed to the media during OTA’s this week that he was cleared from the concussion protocol in Week 7 of last year. With the eye-opening preseason he had and the teams’ desperate need for dynamic receiving targets, did the team decide to stash him away for 2018 and beyond?
In 2017, the Cowboys saw their passing game and offense as a whole crumble. A combination of running back Ezekiel Elliott’s suspension, former wide receiver Dez Bryant’s decline as well as the rest of the receivers taking a step back, offensive line depth issues/quality of play as a unit, and quarterback Dak Prescott’s second-half slide all played an integral role in the decline in offensive production.
After Gathers’ scary injury in camp, he was placed on injured reserve and was eligible to return to practice in Week Six. He became eligible to play in the week seven game against the San Francisco 49ers. While it may have seemed like the team wasn’t pass catcher deficient in those first few weeks of his eligibility, the Week 10 game against the Atlanta Falcons in which fans look back and point to as the turning point of the season, was proof enough.
The games following the Week 10 crucifixion of Prescott didn’t do anything to show the team could fill the pass-catching void. In fact, those games against the Philadelphia Eagles and Los Angeles Chargers were the extreme sign the coaches needed in order to consider switching things up. Knowing the team was on its last legs, the coaches made changes to the defensive secondary going into their Week 13 game against the Washington Redskins.
These changes stopped short of the offense though, why was that?
Well, the team had drafted cornerbacks Jourdan Lewis and Chidobe Awuzie to be the future of that position. Lewis’s strong play and Awuzie’s return to health, coupled with abysmal performances from the starting corners were the clear indicators that it was time to see what they had in their rookies.
Rotational changes with safeties Kavon Frazier and Xavier Woods also followed. The team had a plan for who they wanted to be the future of their secondary and took the opportunity to execute it. The offense though, was not supposed to wither away like it did.
With depth issues on the offensive line, an unforeseen cliff drop from the wide receiver group, and Elliott’s absence; the season was effectively lost. The team had no plan to reset the receiving corps and were blindsided by the lack of success, therefore those same resources dedicated to making changes in the secondary, weren’t applied until this offseason.
Why throw Rico into a sinking ship?
While conventional wisdom would call for Gathers to play to get as much real game action as possible, maybe the team thought about it a different way. Throwing a raw player into an offense that was lost and identity-less could have had huge ramifications.
Gathers was and is not an NFL capable blocker on a consistent basis. The team could not afford to have any more reliability issues, and in last year’s scheme that included the services of former tight end Jason Witten; they needed the stability and consistency up front.
Because of the rigidity of the offensive scheme the past few years and their virtual handcuffing to Bryant and Witten in the passing game, I don’t believe the team was prepared to effectively use Gathers.
At 6’8, 290 with a sub 4.8 40 time, the raw prospect out of Baylor is strictly a pass catcher at this stage in his career. And though I think he should be used in that capacity this year, it would seem as though that’s a wrinkle the team can add this offseason that they didn’t have in 2017.
The team seemed focused on developing him into an all-around tight end before entrusting him with regular season playing time. Stashing him would have allowed the team one more year to redshirt as well as hold onto a roster spot for any emergency needs.
But a lack in Rico’s development from a blocking aspect should not deter the team from giving him deep middle and goal-line passing opportunities in 2018. He might be the most dynamic pass-catcher on the roster. Unfortunately, the Dallas coaching staff has not inspired optimism in using players creatively or making scheme changes to better fit personnel.
If this is not true though, and Gathers was not activated because he was a liability, then there is reason for concern. There have been grumblings about Gathers commitment to the game and getting better. Gathers is not shy about his predictions for himself, and if he has not been putting in the work and the coaches do not see those personality traits in him then it seems as though he is delusional about his ability to go from court to field with ease.
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Rico Gathers tantalizing potential will always make him a fan favorite. Whether or not he is really able to contribute the way some of us believe is still up in the air. I am confident though, with the right opportunities, he can be a significant asset to the Dallas Cowboys’ offense in 2018.