Passing-game coordinator and expected play-caller for the Dallas Cowboys, Scott Linehan, wants to take a different approach with TE Gavin Escobar, the second-round pick from 2013. It may mean a lot more than trying to get return on investment on just one player.
Escobar, whose lack of playing time in 2013 was a source of much irritation for many fans, has been a standout during minicamp, with multiple beat writers tweeting about how involved he is in the offense, and how well he has performed. He stated that he has lost a little weight and more of what he still has is muscle. But an article at the Dallas Morning News looks at what happened last season and how new passing game coordinator and offensive play caller Scott Linehan is planning to change things.
Over the last 15 months, any discussion of Gavin Escobar has too often settled on what the tight end doesn't do.
He's not strong enough. He must become a better blocker.
"Let's start with what he does well and focus on that,'' passing game coordinator Scott Linehan said. "The things he needs to work on, let's work on those things but let's not start with the idea he's not getting on the field until he masters his weaknesses, because he's got strengths.
"Let's lean toward them. Let's work on them so it doesn't become a liability and let's figure out what we're going to do with the guy."
My first reaction to that was along the lines of "Well, duh," because I was under the impression you wanted to do that kind of thing with all your players when you coached an NFL team.
My second reaction was to wonder if this indicates that there was a failure to properly utilize the talents the Cowboys had in 2013.
Escobar is clearly one example of this, but does not seem to be the only one. There is the reluctance of the team to put the game in DeMarco Murray's hands late when running out the clock could have led to victory (and failing to do so probably caused a couple of games to slip out of their grasp). And defensively there was forcing Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne, both cover corners, to play so much zone. It seemed from watching the team that the coordinators last year, Bill Callahan and Monte Kiffin, built their game plans and then tried to force the players into the roles they wanted them to have, rather than considering the strengths of the personnel available and finding ways to capitalize on them.
Now, under Linehan and Rod Marinelli, it sounds like the team is seeking ways to put the players in a position where they are likely to succeed, rather than one where the chance of failure goes up. They seek to find how and when a player can be an asset instead of focusing on when they would be a liability.
It just seems odd to me that the team would not already have taken such an approach, but it also is hardly the first time a coach has become so enamored of his own scheme that he tries to adapt players to it, rather than the other way around. For the most part, forcing square pegs in to round holes is not the best way to go. Teams can either focus on getting players that fit a particular mold, or they can try to be more flexible in how they use the players that they can get.
You do want to draft players that fit certain skill sets. Dallas went into the 2014 draft seeking defensive linemen that fit the Marinelli 4-3, and felt that they were rare enough that they traded up to get DeMarcus Lawrence as an edge rusher. This was after getting Henry Melton, a proven fit for the 3-tech defensive tackle, as a free agent. But once you get your players and establish the roster, then a coaching staff has to figure out how to get the most out of those players. Last year, there seemed to be some difficulty with this, which of course was compounded by the rash of injuries and the gutting of the defensive front seven by the end of the season.
So far in OTAs and the minicamp, all signs are that the team is working hard to best use the players they have. Obviously, this seems to be related to some extent to the change in coordinators. That change was largely seen as a win for head coach Jason Garrett in gaining fuller control of the team, and thereby his own fate this year. Up until then there was a certain disconnect between the talent available and the way it was used that now appears to have been fixed. This may even tie in with the increased importance of Will McClay in the Dallas hierarchy. He seems to have a bit of a knack for bringing in players who are better fits to begin with, which goes hand in hand with using them properly.
Maybe this is reading too much into a few sentences from a coach, but those few words from Linehan seem to reveal something that was not right before, and how the team is fixing it now. This makes Linehan's hire look even better. His willingness to work more with what he has at hand rather than try to make the players into something they aren't might be a crucial difference this year, and the same might be said for Marinelli.