Today as we continue to look for areas that the Cowboys may have improved in, we shift our focus to looking at the tight ends on this roster.
2014: Jason Witten, Gavin Escobar, James Hanna
2015: Jason Witten, Gavin Escobar, James Hanna, Geoff Swaim, Ray Hamilton
TE1- Jason Witten
The ultimate professional and most intense player on the team. Though 2014 saw a decrease in personal statistics, Witten showed that he epitomizes what a Hall-of-Famer at the position truly looks like. Witten became more of a blocker last year, in the most part it was because he's the best overall tight end on the roster. At the halfway mark through 2014, Witten had already considered himself a part of the offensive line. Yet, when the Cowboys entered the final stretch of games and we're scoring north of 30+ points each time, Mr. Reliable showed his face again. Witten was instrumental in picking up third-downs and also hauled in a few scores too. Nobody on this team can do what Jason Witten has done for this offense, he's the true Ironman of the NFL.
TE2- Gavin Escobar
Escobar had moments last year where you though surely he was about to take off. He scored three of his four touchdowns against the Giants, where he was constantly left open. Escobar has great hands but he's not exactly a willing blocker, which is what the second tight end is often asked to do. He's got great size and athletic ability to play in a two tight end set, but for some reason it just never works out that way. The Cowboys have wanted to incorporate that style more often, however with a bevy of good receivers, it can be difficult. The Patriots have used that style because it's how they are built. The Cowboys simply are not, but Escobar has made for one more big target to help get into the end zone. When he's on the field, it seems that Romo knows where to find him.
TE3- James Hanna
Hanna is a bit under-appreciated in this offense, but he does have more overall skills than Escobar. He has made some crucial plays for the offense and played really well towards the end of last season. Where he helps most is ability to block both in the running game and passing game. At the end of last season, they would use Hanna a bit more closer to the line in order to send Witten out on routes. Hanna is in the last year of his contract but he still offers them some depth at the position. The coaches certainly like him because every time he's called upon, he's helped them out, and he almost recovered a fumble by Randall Cobb in the Divisional round. Somehow he didn't and we are all still wondering how?
TE4- Geoff Swaim
The Cowboys traded up in the seventh round to select Swaim, but I'm not sure what their plans are just yet. I do know that they've been trying to replaced Martellus Bennett's blocking style, maybe perhaps to keep Witten in the receiving game. Swaim can block from anywhere you ask him to: H-back, full back, and three-point stance are all strong points to his game. He was able to haul in a few touchdown grabs for the Texas Longhorns too. The Cowboys may have to part ways with their full backs this season, maybe Swaim can be kept and fit that role. However, something tells me that his best bet is to make the practice squad or beat out Hanna.
TE5- Ray Hamilton
He's basically just another blocking tight end, not really sure why they needed another one. Perhaps, he's just going to be an extra body to go through Pope's Magical Drills of the Bizarro World. He's likely just another guy to try out in preseason games and see if he can show anything at all. As Tom Ryle said, "when you have to look up what position someone plays, it's a bad sign."
My take: The roster will shake out to be about the same as last season. There is room to argue for improvement because of the way Jason Witten transformed his game. Also, Escobar still has a lot of room to grow and has not hit a wall just yet. Hanna will get some opportunities and he's been a solid contributor on special teams. Swaim was drafted late and there is no guarantee that he'll make the final roster. For him, he just needs to show Coach Pope that he can handle anything thrown his way. As the team has shifted into a run-first offense, there will be plenty of opportunity.