Speculation has been prominent here at Blogging The Boys that the Dallas Cowboys have been making plans to use the 12 personnel, or two tight end, package more this year while abandoning the fullback position entirely.
It's not speculation any more. Although he stopped short of a full commitment to the concept, in an article by Charean Williams at the Ft Worth Star Telegram his comments indicate that this is the most likely direction the Cowboys are going.
"That's the way we operated throughout the offseason when Lawrence wasn't available to us because of an injury," Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said. "We just liked how it looked and how it felt. There's no guarantee that we'll continue in that mode, but we feel good about the four, five, six tight ends we have on our roster right now, how they can compete and how the whole thing looked. So we'll play that out through training camp and make the best decision for our team."
Just as an aside, I thought the Tweet sent out about his article was . . . interesting.
Other than the strange images that evokes, this makes it look like the team is going to do what we have expected here for months, installing the 12 personnel package as one of the primary ones for the offense. The team will also likely run a large number of 11 packages.
Just to recap, the 12 grouping is a very good way to go with the hurry-up or no huddle offense, if you have the right tight ends, because it allows the team to run or pass effectively without substituting players. By using an uptempo offense, it limits the ability of the defense to make any substitutions of their own and should give Tony Romo an ability to exploit mismatches.
The success of this will depend on the tight ends that Dallas decides to keep. One of the hallmarks of teams that have used the 12 package successfully, like the New England Patriots back before they lost Aaron Hernandez to the justice system, was having a tight end that could also drive up the field and carry defenders with him like a wide receiver. Jason Witten, for all his outstanding abilities, is not really ideal for that role. But based on last year, James Hanna just might be the kind of tight end that can also split out wide and provide a credible deep threat. Rookie Gavin Escobar is not as fast, but proved that he was also a downfield threat in college. Besides, part of the way the scheme works is to get a receiver moving downfield with a slower player, perhaps a linebacker, trying to cover them deep and opening up the slants and intermediate throws. You don't necessarily have to have great speed, just good enough against a player that is not normally playing as a defensive back.
Garrett's comment also starts to bring the likely composition of the roster this year into better focus. It looks like a good bet that the team will now carry four tight ends, with Dante Rosario the leading candidate to round out the unit, and four running backs. DeMarco Murray is of course a given, with Lance Dunbar, Joseph Randle and Phillip Tanner the most likely players to fill out that group. Kendial Lawrence might be able to challenge Tanner in camp. The running backs are a sometimes overlooked part of the 12 package, since the team can also run out of the same package, and they provide additional protection for the passer as well as a threat to get out into the flat when the receivers pull the coverage deep with them. You can be sure that receiving skills are going to be a prime consideration when the final decision or two is made on who sticks with the team.
I think this is an exciting direction for the Cowboys to go. It is not a surprise, because the signals were very clear this offseason that the team was moving this direction. But with camp now starting up, it is good to see the pieces all coming together.