The Dallas Cowboys haven’t even made it into training camp or put on pads yet, but all eyes are already fixated on second-year tight end Rico Gathers as a potential breakout player in 2017. Justifiable or not, that’s just the way things go in the off-season. But, it might be wise for Cowboys’ fans to tap the brakes on the expectations they might have for Gathers this season.
It may sound a little harsh, but Rico Gathers still has quite a ways to go in his development before he can be relied upon. He is still transitioning from a college basketball star into a football player. There are quite a few things that go into the transition process, and unfortunately it can’t be rushed.
The Dallas Cowboys decided to draft Gathers in the sixth round of the 2016 NFL Draft as a developmental project. The key word here being “project”. That is what #80 is, and the sooner we realize that the better.
Upon the completion of his collegiate basketball career, Rico Gathers decided to turn his attention to the gridiron and become a professional football player, despite not playing the game since he was 13 years old. So, you can imagine there are not only a lot of X’s and O’s he has to learn and catch up on, but he also has to transform his body from that of a basketball player into a football player.
Gathers has been in the system for an entire year and has been putting in the work in the strength and conditioning program to prepare his body for the upcoming season. He also had the added benefit of working with the recently retired Tony Romo on the practice squad. That alone was probably invaluable to his development, but that was in practice, not actual games.
You see, a lot of the hype surrounding Rico Gathers is because of the work he was able to get in with Romo on the practice squad. Word is the duo was virtually unstoppable against the Cowboys first team defense, which has a lot of us excited about Gathers potential, myself included. But, running scripted plays that allowed him to know exactly what to do is far different than what he would have to do in an actual game.
That’s the reason I’m preaching caution here, because all of the nuances of the game he still has to learn. We really don’t know how much of a grasp he has on the playbook or if he knows all of his assignments based on what the opposing defense is showing. This is something will have to wait until training camp to find out.
The Dallas Cowboys ask quite a bit of their tight ends, which makes it one of the more difficult positions to learn. They have several responsibilities in both the running and passing game, which is mostly predicated on being able to read defensive coverages in a split second.
These are the areas of greatest concern for Gathers’ development. Of course, he also has to work on his blocking technique and route running, but that’s the physical side of the game that comes easier with proper coaching. It’s really the mental aspects holding Gathers back, because the physical traits are definitely there.
At 6’7″ and 281 pounds, Rico Gathers has rare size and athletic ability, especially for a tight end. That is why it is easy to imagine what he could possibly turn into and do on the football field.
As things stand right now, he is the #2 tight end behind Jason Witten when training camp gets underway, while Geoff Swaim and James Hanna continue to recover from their injuries. So, he will have the opportunity to prove himself. The ball is in his court (pun intended).
I’m personally still going to err on the side of caution when it comes to how much he will be able to contribute in 2017, because I think he still has quite a ways to go in his development. But, that doesn’t mean I’m not rooting for the guy.
Rico Gathers just has that kind of story you want to root for. It’s not easy to transition from one sport to another, especially when he hasn’t played the sport he’s transitioning into since he was 13. But, I’m sure we are all hoping he has a storybook ending. Right?