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Will Cowboys TE Position Be Decided by Week One?

Jess Haynie

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Dalton Schultz

Tight End Jason Witten's retirement has left a crater in the Dallas Cowboys offense, and the team did not have a clear plan of succession in place. As such, it's possible that the search for their next starter may not be decided by the end of the preseason.

Barring a surprising free agent move for a veteran, Dallas will go into training camp with a young and inexperienced group at tight end. Will those few weeks of camp and four preseason games be enough to decide such an important role in the offense?

In only his fourth season and with a measly nine career catches to his name, Geoff Swaim is the senior of the group. That alone illustrates the problem; Swaim is the only known entity and we still barely know him.

The Cowboys spent a fourth-round pick on Stanford's Dalton Schultz, and there are things that jump out at you about him immediately. He has the size and game that reminds young of a young Witten, and of course those words get any Dallas fan excited.

But even Jason, legend that he proved to be, didn't hit the ground running. He started sporadically as a rookie and only had nine catches in his first eight games.

Rico Gathers, Rams

Dallas Cowboys TE Rico Gathers

Then of course there's Rico Gathers, one of the most intriguing practice squad players we've ever had in Dallas. After a hot preseason last year, Gathers suffered a concussion that took him out to start they ear. Even though he was symptom-free as the season progressed, the Cowboys kept him on injured reserve all year.

Gathers has exciting athletic potential, but enters the NFL so raw as a former basketball player in college. Making the leap to significant playing time in pro football is a lot to ask, and the missed time last year isn't going to help.

So you have a guy trying to transition from rebounds to touchdowns, a fourth-round rookie, and a "veteran" who was battling for playing time with James Hanna last year. See the issue?

That's not to say that one of these guys can't emerge as a great player. But the problem is that there's really nothing that dictates who should be relied on to start camp.

Dallas will likely go with Geoff Swaim given his experience edge, but he's also in the final year of his rookie deal. If Schultz or Gathers makes noise early, it could make the Cowboys wants to change direction quickly.

If the Cowboys wind up rotating the players with the first team, you could wind up now having a clear answer by the end of August.

We've seen position battles continue into the regular season before. It's not ideal, but there's no substitute for seeing how guys respond in real NFL action.

Right now, things at the TE position are set up that way. Swaim has a shot at running with his opportunity as the deferred-to veteran early, but the team could move quickly to Schultz or Gathers depending on performance.

This uncertainty is great for us as writers and makes preseason games a lot of fun, but it also means a potentially shaky position group going into September. That's not ideal for a team trying to get back to the playoffs.



Cowboys fan since 1992, blogger since 2011. Bringing you the objectivity of an outside perspective with the passion of a die-hard fan. I love to talk to my readers, so please comment on any article and I'll be sure to respond!

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6 Comments
  • Travis Diggs

    I like how people already writing off Rico like he’s just a after thought because of the other unknowns on the roster .Honestly we don’t know who’s going start but i do know last preseason we were riding the Rico wave till he got hurt .Stop with the projections and lets just see how they play in preseason first

  • Sexcdex Xfact

    Logic will be to go with Swaim
    Unless Schultz and/or Gathers supplants him
    However,
    The smartest thing to do if they’re uncertain close to end if training camp will be to go via TE by committee as with the receiver dilemma
    Sanjay is smart enough &
    We are transitioning our entire air-attack after all
    We’re going to gel together as we grow together
    The Rams were very scary & young last year
    I feel we’re just inches away from fine tuning this entire team
    TE’s included

    • kabob

      Sanjay Lal isn’t over the TEs. He’s the wide receivers coach. Cowboys are relying on Doug Nussmeier to get the job done.

      • Sexcdex Xfact

        Let me clarify,
        I said, “….as in the receivers…. .”,
        Then spoke in Sanjay
        I compared receiver by committee to say the TE’s should follow suit ,,,,,
        ,,,,,TE’s by committee
        My badd brother for not mentioning Mr. Nussmeier by name & confusing my intent
        And, but you’re absolutely right

        Thanx for the correction my fellow fan

  • Sexcdex Xfact

    And another AMEN 2THAT

  • Russ_Te

    I think they will get a veteran TE if the opportunity is right. We’ll see if someone is cut who might have some games left in him, etc. Maybe a late trade if no move is made for Earl Thomas. (I want to see Woods first at FS in preseason, then get Thomas if Woods isn’t ready to start. It looks like that situation will be a stalemate for a while in Seattle).

    But Dak might be thinking he wants a big, agile TE threat and may deliberately feed Gathers the ball to try to get him going. If it’s possible to lift him into the role it would be a big help to the cog players outside.

    If nobody is a receiving threat at TE, then they need more spread sets. And that would also mean you run out of those some, even early downs, so defenses are not always keying pass.

Game Notes

Remembering the Cowboys NFC East Clinching Win Vs. Colts, 4 Years Later

Sean Martin

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Remembering the Cowboys NFC East Clinching Win Vs. Colts, 4 Years Later 1

The 2014 Dallas Cowboys season still feels like a landmark in the rich history of this team. Going deeper into Cowboys annuls is nothing more than a hopeless drift through wasted time that all of us are guilty of, though looking ahead at the 2018 team also leaves just distant memories of 2014.

Perhaps it was the memorable and painful way this season ended, with Dez Bryant's catch in the divisional playoffs at the Packers being played on loop ever since. This clip has surely overshadowed the way Dallas clinched the NFC East in 2014, with a 42-7 win over the Indianapolis Colts at AT&T Stadium.

The Cowboys find themselves in a similar position Sunday, beginning a stretch of three straight "win and you're in" games. The NFC East will belong to the once 3-5 Cowboys with a win over the Colts, Buccaneers, or Giants.

In that 42-7 drubbing of the Colts four years ago, Tony Romo threw three first half touchdowns to three different targets. At halftime, the Cowboys were on their way with a 28-0 lead, jumping out to a 42-0 advantage before Matt Hasselbeck would throw a garbage time touchdown (yeah, I feel old writing that too).

Just like in this match up, the Cowboys are fresh off a win over the Eagles, as they were in 2014 before rolling to the division title. Four starters from Jason Garrett's first NFC East clincher remain on his roster, though only two will play, speaking to the strides Garrett has made to salvage his reputation this year.

Left Tackle Tyrone Smith and Defensive End Tyrone Crawford will both be in the Cowboys lineup, with Travis Frederick and Zack Martin both ruled out.

The 2014 Cowboys established themselves as the run-first team that's very much still in tact thanks to Ezekiel Elliott. Only Giants rookie Saquon Barkey has more rushing yards over the last five weeks than Elliott. While Barkley continues to impress for a team that will not make the playoffs, Elliott is carrying the Cowboys closer to the postseason with every carry.

Unlike 2014, the path out of the Cowboys backfield to the top of the division hasn't been as straight. The '14 Cowboys featured a veteran lineup on both sides of the ball, focused on weekly improvements yielding a 12-4 record.

The only time the Cowboys have won more games under Garrett was in 2016, where the Cowboys altered the future of the franchise again with a new-look team that went 13-3 before losing in the divisional round to Green Bay again.

Neither 12 or 13 wins is attainable this year for the Cowboys, but the best of both recent divisional championship seasons is. Wins over the Saints and Eagles have brought back the miraculous 2016 feel Quarterback Dak Prescott's rookie season brought to Dallas. For going through both that season together, as well as a nine win campaign in 2017 that serves as Prescott's "down year", the Cowboys staffers that remember 2014 should be nostalgic at kickoff Sunday.

With the NFL being such a week-by-week, day-by-day, and even minute-by-minute experience, taking the chance to add perspective whenever possible is refreshing. The Cowboys arrival as perennial contenders in 2014 can come full circle with a new cast of players and familiar coaching staff here in week 15.

Remember just how much this team has been through to reach this point the next time you call for sweeping changes to America's Team, and if you're feeling lucky, a prop bet on Garrett having blue Gatorade dumped on him before night's end could go a long way.

Remembering the Cowboys NFC East Clinching Win Vs. Colts, 4 Years Later

(AP Photo/Brandon Wade)

Tell us what you think about "Remembering the Cowboys NFC East Clinching Win Vs. Colts, 4 Years Later" in the comments below. You can also email me at Sean.Martin@InsideTheStar.com, or Tweet to me at @SeanMartinNFL!



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Game Notes

Cowboys Wishlist: Connor Williams Turns It Around

Mauricio Rodriguez

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Could Connor Williams Be Option at Tight End for Cowboys? 1

The Dallas Cowboys are on the road again as they travel to Indianapolis to face a hot 7-6 Colts team that's trying to sneak into the AFC Playoffs. It will be a tough challenge for a team that's struggled when playing out of AT&T Stadium but the Cowboys have changed a lot since they were a 3-5 unit. This time, they're one of the hottest teams in the NFL and are one win away from clinching the NFC East.

We surely are in for a great game. Without further ado, I hope you enjoy this week's edition of "Cowboys Wishlist."

Wish #1: Leighton Vander Esch Outplays Darius Leonard

As impressive as Leighton Vander Esch has been for the Dallas Cowboys, he's not alone in the Defensive Rookie of the Year race. On today's game, he'll meet his match in Colts LB Darius Leonard. A second rounder himself, Leonard leads the league in tackles with 135. He also is responsible for 11 tackles for loss, seven sacks, four forced fumbles and one interception.

Vander Esch, otherwise known as "Wolf Hunter" doesn't have such incredible stats, but playing time is a big reason why. His play has been pretty impressive, though. Ranked as the top rookie linebacker by PFF, hell be out there to prove who's the better player. I really wish he outplays Leonard en rout to the DROY award.

Dak Prescott Clutch in 4th Quarter & OT in Win Over Eagles 3

Wish #2: No Turnovers From Dak

455 yards, three touchdowns and another game-winning drive were more than impressive from Dak Prescott. I really have faith in him as the Cowboys' QB. But we can't ignore the three turnovers he was responsible for in such a close game versus the Philadelphia Eagles.

This game will be different. The Colts are a legit threat in the NFL right now and the Cowboys won't be the home team. Without Martin on the field, Prescott is likely to be pressured. If that's the case, he needs to watch out and avoid fumbles in the pocket.

It's really important the team takes care of the ball if they want the win versus Andrew Luck and company. I specifically wish Dak Prescott has a good game and does something he's done fairly well throughout his career:  take care of the ball.

Wish #3: Connor Williams Turns It Around

Expectations were sky-high for second round pick Connor Williams. A starter in week 1, injury and poor play sidelined him in favor of Xavier Su'a-Filo. With Zack Martin out for the game, Williams has another opportunity to shine. This time he'll be lining up as the team's right guard between C Joe Looney and RT La'el Collins.

It's very important to remember Williams is only a rookie. Just because we're used to offensive line rookies to have immediate success for Dallas doesn't mean every one the team brings in will be as great starting off. A rough start is not the end of the world for Williams. Also worth noting, the majority of his playing time came under now-fired OL coach Paul Alexander. I'm convinced he'll turn things around and will become an important player for the Cowboys soon.

For now, I wish he takes advantage of the opportunity to play and does a great job to be considered again for the LG spot once Martin returns.

Sean's Scout: Resilient Prescott Inches Cowboys Closer to NFC East Title

Dallas Cowboys WR Amari Cooper (Richard Rodriguez / Getty Images)

Wish #4: Amari Cooper Keeps It Up

The impact Amari Cooper has had on this team is quite frankly unbelievable. He should really be seen as this season's savior for the Cowboys. While the defense is winning games, without Cooper the offense would still be terrible and results wouldn't be the same. He has more than justified the first round pick the Jones traded away to get him.

In a big, road game like this one, I hope he keeps it up and has another huge performance. Whether it is multiple scores or a 100-yard game, I simply want to see him shine again.

Tell me what you think about "Cowboys Wishlist: Connor Williams Turns It Around" in the comments below, or tweet me @MauNFL and let’s talk football! If you like football and are looking for a Dallas Cowboys show in Spanish, don’t miss my weekly Facebook Live! show, Primero Cowboys!



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Game Notes

Cowboys, Colts Week 15 Injury Report

Jess Haynie

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Less Is More For Sean Lee And Cowboys' LBs?

The Dallas Cowboys can clinch the NFC East with a win this week, while the Indianapolis Colts are fighting to stay alive in the AFC wild card race. Only one team can accomplish their goal, and both have some big names on the Week 15 injury report.

We'll begin with the visiting Cowboys, who could be getting at least one star player back while another is already confirmed to miss the game.

Dallas Cowboys

  • TE Geoff Swaim (wrist) - OUT
  • G Zack Martin (knee) - OUT
  • DL David Irving (ankle) - OUT
  • WR Tavon Austin (groin) - Questionable
  • WR Lance Lenoir (illness) - Questionable
  • OT Tyron Smith (neck) - Questionable
  • DE Randy Gregory (personal) - Questionable
  • LB Sean Lee (hamstring) - Questionable

Yes, sadly, Zack Martin will be out tomorrow. The good news is that Connor Williams got the entire week to practice with the starters at right guard. You can read much more about this situation and it's impact on the game here, courtesy of our own Sean Martin.

Also ruled out, as they have been for a while now, are TE Geoff Swaim and DL David Irving.  Swaim is still recovering from wrist surgery but has not been placed on injured reserve, so the team must feel he could be back for the playoffs. Irving could return as soon as next week.

Speaking of returns, Sean Lee may be back on the field this Sunday. It's unknown yet how he'll rotate with Leighton Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith, but Dallas has the luxury of working him in slowly thanks to the play of their young duo.

Tavon Austin could also return this week, creating another new offensive wrinkle. Austin has been injured since the Jacksonville game and has yet to play since the Cowboys acquired Amari Cooper. Not only could Tavon do some interesting things in the offense, but he should bring some additional sizzle to special teams.

While appearing on the injury report, Randy Gregory missed practice this week for "family reasons" according to Jason Garrett. He could still play tomorrow.

Indianapolis Colts

  • G Mark Glowinski (ankle) - OUT
  • LB Skai Moore (neck) - OUT
  • S Mike Mitchell (calf) - OUT
  • WR T.Y. Hilton (ankle) - Questionable
  • TE Ryan Hewitt (ribs) - Questionable
  • S Clayton Geathers (knee) - Questionable

The big name here is Hilton, the star receiver who missed all practice this week with an ankle injury. Indianapolis has not ruled him out, wanting to give Andrew Luck's favorite target every opportunity to play. But it's not looking good, and a bad ankle could limit Hilton's effectiveness even if he goes.

Also hurt among the passing options is starting TE Ryan Hewitt, but he did practice full on Friday and should go. Not playing, however, is starting right guard Mark Glowinski. That means third-year player Evan Boehm should start, who just joined the team in October.

Indy's hurting at safety this week. Not only did starter Clayton Geathers miss the whole week of practice, but veteran backup Mike Mitchell is already ruled out. The Colts would have to rely on undrafted rookie George Odum if neither plays.

Fun fact before we go; former Cowboy Jihad Ward was picked up by the Colts after Dallas included him in their roster cuts to start the season. However, he landed on injured reserve back in October so won't get a chance at revenge.



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