IRVING, Texas -- What will be different this time that the Cowboys drafted a tight end in the second round to complement perennial Pro Bowler Jason Witten?
That’s not a rhetorical question. Jerry Jones really pressed Jason Garrett on the issue before taking San Diego State’s Gavin Escobar with the 47th overall pick.
“We literally by taking him had to look at each other in the draft room and say to Jason, ‘Are we going to be different because of him? Does this add a dimension?’” Jones said. “Not that we came in to be different, but if we take him to have these three tight ends with (James) Hanna and Witten, are we going to be doing some things differently that we haven’t done before?
“The answer is yes.”
Two good reasons to be skeptical: Anthony Fasano and Martellus Bennett. Under Garrett’s coaching, neither of the Cowboys’ last two second-round tight ends emerged as significant weapons in the passing game until they left Valley Ranch.
If that’s the case with Escobar, the Cowboys will have wasted another second-round pick. The Cowboys coveted the 6-foot-5 7/8, 254-pounder because of his receiving ability, certainly not because of his average-at-best blocking.
This comes down to whether Garrett can be creative enough to utilize Escobar’s talent in an offense that also features Witten, Dez Bryant, Miles Austin, DeMarco Murray and now third-round receiver Terrance Williams.
“We never got where we wanted to go with Martellus,” Jones said. “For whatever the reason, we didn’t get there.”
Bennett didn’t score a touchdown in his final three seasons with the Cowboys, basically becoming a glorified tackle-eligible. Valley Ranch folks point out that Garrett’s scheme wasn’t necessarily at fault for Bennett’s lack of production.
“Some of the things we tried to do with Martellus we couldn’t get done because we just couldn’t get it working,” Jones said. “I mean, we had packages we worked at for weeks out here sometimes to get packages in games and then he didn’t show. It sounds negative toward him, but he didn’t show.
“So having said that, we welcome the opportunity to add a real tight end, a New England-type emphasis.”
The hope is that Escobar can fill Aaron Hernandez’s role as the second tight end who often lines up in the slot or as an outside receiver.
Garrett said Escobar plays much faster than his unimpressive 4.84 40 time. That’s supported by the fact that Escobar had the best 20-yard shuttle (4.31), 60-yard shuttle (11.86) and three-cone drill (7.07) among tight ends at the combine.
Combine that athleticism with Escobar’s soft hands and ability to fight for the ball in traffic, and the Cowboys believe they’ve added another weapon for Tony Romo. Of course, we heard the same thing when they selected Bennett in 2008.
“Are we going to do the kinds of things necessary to invest that kind of pick?” Jones said. “We are.”
That doesn’t necessarily mean the Cowboys will do much new from a scheme standpoint. As Garrett pointed out, he’s always preferred to use a lot of multi-tight end formations.
“We’ve used the 12 personnel group a lot over the years, maybe as much as any team in the league,” said Garrett, who used those personnel groups much less after Bennett left in free agency before last season. “This is a guy who can really come in and make a difference for us at that tight end spot opposite Witt. We feel Witt is arguably as good a tight end in the National Football League. He has so many strengths.
“When you can add somebody else at the tight end position with this guy’s length, athleticism and pass-catching ability to go along with our outside receivers, it can be a challenging personnel group for defenses to handle.”
Escobar needs to develop as a blocker – something the Cowboys think will happens as a result of his work in the strength and conditioning program – but the hope is his presence will provide an immediate boost to a running game that ranked last in the NFC last season. The logic: Teams will be forced to play a lot of nickel defense to account for him as a receiving threat, making it easier to run the ball.
The Cowboys were dreadful running the ball out of two-tight end sets last season, averaging 2.7 yards on 120 carries, a drop from 4.2 yards a pop on 225 carries the previous season.
That’s proof that the Cowboys actually missed Bennett last season, as disappointing as his Dallas tenure was.
But the hope is that Escobar will make the Cowboys’ previous second-round tight ends distant memories, not continue the trend. The heat is on Garrett to make it happen.