OXNARD, Calif. – All of the backup tight end talk around the Dallas Cowboys has centered around Gavin Escobar. After all, Escobar was a second-round pick last year and the Cowboys added a new tight ends coach in Mike Pope to develop Escobar.
But what about the guy who was the backup tight end last season, James Hanna? He started eight of 16 games. He caught more passes than Escobar (12 to nine).
“He’s in it,” coach Jason Garrett said of the tight end mix. “He’s battling for a role just like he did last year. For a lot of last year he kind of held Escobar off and played a lot of snaps for us. He’s a good football player. He can run, and I think both he and Escobar are getting better at ‘My hand is on the ground, physical, Y-type blocking.’ Coach Pope will really help guys in that regard. He’s in the mix. He’s someone we have a lot of confidence in.”
Hanna is on his third position coach in his three years in the league, going from John Garrett to Wes Phillips to now Pope. The teachings of the three are more different than Hanna imagined, from footwork to hand placement in blocking.
“Every coach is a lot different,” Hanna said. “They want us to do things differently, so I’ve got to adjust to that, but it’s still the same game.”
When he was drafted in the sixth round of the 2012 draft, the Cowboys raved about his speed. Except for one game against the Pittsburgh Steelers (two catches, 45 yards) the Cowboys have not put him in position to use his speed. He has improved as a blocker, however, and has taken some first-team snaps in the running game when the Cowboys use two tight ends.
He has also developed into a valuable special-teams member.
“My view of it is I want it to be so that they have to play me, and hopefully Rich [Bisaccia] feels like he needs me because I can play on special teams,” Hanna said. “Hopefully I get my shots on offense, too.”