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Cowboys' Gavin Escobar lets loose in return from torn Achilles

OXNARD, Calif. -- Dallas Cowboys tight end Gavin Escobar sprinted off the line, perhaps the fastest he had gone all training camp. He started on the left side of the line and ran diagonally across the field toward the right corner of the end zone.

Seeing the safety flat-footed as Escobar approached, quarterback Jameill Showers fired the ball to the end zone. The pass couldn’t be too high or too low. It had to lead Escobar just enough. As Escobar reached the goal line in full sprint, he reached, stretching his 6-foot-6 frame as far as he could.

The ball stuck to his hands. He got his feet down. Touchdown.

“I had to move, so that was good, because when you’re running routes on air you don’t necessarily have to,” Escobar said. “You don’t go that little extra burst, so knowing I could still do that, it’s good for my confidence in the injury.”

On Dec. 19, 2015, Escobar tore his Achilles against the New York Jets. He had surgery three days later. Seven-plus months after the surgery, Escobar was able to demonstrate speed and put tension on the leg at the very end in what might have been the most impressive training-camp play he has had since joining the Cowboys as a second-round pick in 2013.

“He’s worked hard, I know that,” coach Jason Garrett said. “Just a matter of continuing to get stronger in the area he hurt. But he’s had a good start.”

When Escobar got hurt running a route against the Jets, he wasn’t sure what happened.

“There were a lot of thoughts that go through your mind in such a short span, which is funny because I thought somebody kicked me,” Escobar said. “That’s what it feels like, the injury, so the closest one to me was Dez (Bryant) and I thought, ‘Why would Dez kick me? There’s no motion (to my side).’ I looked back and there’s no one there. My second thought was that it was just a bad calf cramp, so I hobble off the field. I guess my Achilles was just dangling. They told me, ‘Nah, it doesn’t look like a calf cramp.’ That was a bummer.”

Achilles tears can be devastating. Players can lose explosiveness and mobility. The rehab is tedious and long. In the Cowboys locker room, however, Escobar could look to defensive tackle Tyrone Crawford, who missed the 2013 season, and safety Barry Church, who missed 13 games in 2012 with the same injury.

“They didn’t tell me about the pain I was going to feel after the surgery, which I got mad at Tyrone about,” Escobar said.

Not long after the surgery, Escobar looked at the calendar to plan his comeback and set a goal. The medical staff told him it was a six-to-12-month recovery. With training camp starting in late July, his goal was to be full go by then.

He has yet to do everything, but it’s not because he hasn’t been cleared. The Cowboys want to be deliberate in his return to avoid a setback.

To avoid a possible setback, Escobar arrives to the training room about an hour before practice for ultrasound and heat. He stretches out more than normal as well. After practice he will dump his leg in ice and visit the chiropractor to work out the scar tissue.

“It’s kind of the normal stuff you do on any injury,” Escobar said.

He needs to ready for anything. While he has never had more than nine catches, 134 yards or four touchdowns in a season, the blame doesn’t rest solely on him. The coaches have not been able to find the best way to utilize him more in an offense stacked with talent.

This is the final year of his contract, but Escobar is not thinking about the future, and the recent past has helped with that.

“I think that what an injury really teaches you is you just take it a day at a time,” Escobar said, “because you can’t look too far ahead and get down on yourself.”