Last year was a rude awakening for Gavin Escobar. Clearly the young tight end did not have the rookie season of his dreams in 2013, but things are beginning to look up for the former San Diego State product. Mike Pope, formerly the tight ends coach for the rival New York Giants, has taken charge of the young player's development, and according to reports, the Dallas Cowboys are starting to see the kind of performance they anticipated when taking Escobar in the second round of the 2013 NFL Draft.
Although many, especially the draft experts in the media, initially lambasted the Cowboys for selecting Escobar that high in the draft, Coach Pope recently revealed that the Giants also thought very highly of the young prospect. Pope stated that they had Escobar graded pretty close to where Dallas selected him. After being forced to wait a season for the opportunity to work with the Escobar, the coach is now making the most of his opportunity to mold another potential star. Pope is excited by the opportunity he has been given.
"He’s got a flytrap for hands," Pope said. "He has tremendous catching ability. He’s got those basketball-type skills. He can contort his body and make the acrobatic catches. He’s a very, very high percentage catcher. If the ball gets to him, he can adjust to it. And he’s very brave running down the field. Because he’s a big target, they can hit about any part of the three feet on him. He’s courageous." - Mike Pope, Dallas TE Coach
That is something that we have all heard before. Ever since last Dallas invested the pick in Escobar, Cowboys fans have been hearing about Gavin Escobar the pass catcher; what we need to see, however; is improvement from the blocker. It was his skill in that area, or rather lack thereof, that helped to limit the rookie to just over 200 snaps last season. We all want to know what is being done to make the heir apparent to Jason Witten a force in the running game. That limitation was not lost on Escobar.
"Obviously I need to be reliable in the run game. I’m trying to show them that right now. … With the 12-personnel [two tight end sets] you can do so much with it, so just being able to do both is really the key." - Gavin Escobar
To that end, Escobar along with Mike Pope and the Cowboys nutrition and strength specialists have developed a strategy for resolving the situation. Naturally he has been working on developing better blocking technique, but the commitment goes far deeper. Gone are the days of fast food, Escobar now does his own cooking and focuses himself on eating the types of food that are beneficial to his body. He has also started a dedicated strength building regimen. His four day a week routine at the team's Valley Ranch facilities has resulted in a leaner, stronger physique and five additional pounds of muscle on Escobar's 6'7' 250 pound frame.
It is the work in the weight room that has been earning him praise. In particular, Escobar has worked on developing his leg strength, which is vital to improving his performance on the line.
"He’s been methodically present and he’s worked really hard. When you’re 6-7, there’s going to be some areas of your body that need more development. Most of the time, that’s the legs, and that was his background, being more of an athletic tight end, a space player. He’s worked hard this winter and I’ve been impressed by it." - Mike Pope
Gavin Escobar's efforts have earned him the praise of not only his coaches, but also the man he is eventually looking to succeed, Jason Witten. Not given to handing out praise undeservedly, Witten has spoken enthusiastically about the progress that his understudy is making between his first and second years.
"We know he can run the seams and can do some things in the passing game, but we need him to be solid in there [on the line]. He’s worked hard. To see that package grow for him and being out on the field is going to be a lot better because he can now do both.
I’m proud of him. I know he’s worked hard. It’s paying off for him and I think his role will continue to grow. We need that. We need that not only in the slot, but we need that other guy up the middle." - Jason Witten
As Witten, a nine time Pro Bowl player, is getting a little long in the tooth, the development of Gavin Escobar is a move in the right direction. Perhaps in the not too distant future the young tight end will carve out a place for himself in the long line of top notch Dallas tight ends; perhaps not. Either way, Escobar has taken great strides in his quest to better himself as a football player. That is never a bad thing. Under the watchful eye of a coach like Mike Pope, and with Jason Witten as his mentor, there is plenty of opportunity for Escobar to continue to grow.