This could be the make-or-break year for tight end Rico Gathers. With Jason Witten retiring, there is no time like the present for him to make his mark.
Question: We’ll know more after OTAs and training camp, but what are the realistic expectations for tight end Rico Gathers?
Brandon George: It’s time for the Cowboys to either put Rico Gathers on the field in the regular season or move on from him. They’ve been patient with Gathers to give him a chance to learn the NFL and become a more complete player. They know his ability to catch the football is his strength but he needed to become a better blocker and learn the offense more after not having played football since the eighth grade. With Jason Witten now retired, the Cowboys need Gathers to become a part of their offense. Realistically, the Cowboys will likely spot him at times in positions he’s more comfortable in, such as a big target in the red zone, and see how he handles that before giving him more responsibilities in the offense.
The Dallas Morning News spoke with QB Mike White’s college coach to get an idea of what the team got in their fifth-round pick.
SportsDay: Tell us a little about your time with Mike White this year.
Mike Sanford: The physical tool that jumps off the screen and page to me is just his accuracy as a thrower. He’s one of the rare quarterbacks I’ve ever been around that literally can do with the football exactly what he wants to as a passer, which is an insane art. To be able to put that kind of velocity on it, take off the velocity, fit balls into weird windows that are awkward throws? Some of that is God-given.
Chris Covington is kind of the forgotten man in the draft. Here’s a little to know about him as he battles to make a place on special teams.
Covington hasn’t always been a linebacker. He stepped on Indiana’s campus in 2014 as a quarterback.
He played in five games on offense before he suffered a season-ending injury that freshman season. The next spring he moved to linebacker, and by the end of his senior year he earned All-Big Ten honorable mention honors with 85 tackles (12 for loss), 3 sacks and 5 pass breakups.
Covington is a big linebacker (6-2, 245) who plays faster than timed speed (4.78-second 40-yard dash time at the Combine) and can cover some ground. But with only three years’ experience at linebacker, he’ll likely need time to continue learning its nuances.
Former Cowboys defensive tackler Terrell McClain was recently released by the Redskins following the draft. Now, with visits to Dallas, the Dolphins, and the 49ers, could McClain find his way back to the Big D?
Every time a name comes across the transaction screen, Cowboys writers and reporters get bombarded with questions on whether or not Dallas should be interested. Normally, the only thing that links the Cowboys to said player is that they are both involved in the NFL. If the player has a familiar name, scores of fans think the only thing missing from that player once again reaching their pinnacle is donning a star.
Rarely does it happen where a player is an actual good git for Dallas.
Dallas drafted a first-round linebacker in Leighton Vander Esch who, despite his size, is not yet proven to be capable of shedding blockers with consistency. For the run game to truly improve, Dallas needs the space eater that McClain could be if healthy. His 2016 performance when he played in 15 games was impressive and part of the reason Dallas ranked in the Top 10 of defensive rush DVOA that season, on the way to a 13-3 regular season.
Terrell McClain was a force in 2016. pic.twitter.com/asXIlHtgZ8— Marcus Mosher (@Marcus_Mosher) May 8, 2018
Walker points out that Will McClay has already publicly talked about the interest in a McClain reunion in Dallas.
Vice President of Player Personnel Will McClay has already declared his openness to a renewed marriage between both sides, but they’ll now have to contend with a 49ers team who just recently wooed away offensive lineman Jonathan Cooper, a player who saw his career renewed last season with the Cowboys.
”[McClain is] a free agent. We’re gonna look at opportunities to improve the team,” said scouting guru Will McClay to 105.3FM The Fan. “He had a great run here and if he wants to come back we’ll definitely look at it. “
They’d be wise to follow through on that statement, considering how instantly upgraded the team’s defensive front would be with McClain back in the fold. There hasn’t been any movement back towards Dallas before now, but a potential joining with DeMarcus Lawrence, David Irving, rookie Dorance Armstrong and an improving Taco Charlton could be enticing enough to catch his attention. Add in a potentially soon-to-be reinstated Randy Gregory and it’s not difficult to see how this all comes together in the best possible way for the Cowboys.
This already looks like the most talented D-Line the Cowboys have fielded in 6-7 years, on paper at least.— David Helman (@HelmanDC) May 8, 2018
Bringing McClain back would be icing on the cake, if they can get it done. https://t.co/3hZY9hpmBZ
Speaking of Bo, Yousuf writes on how Scarbrough can be used in the Cowboys offense this upcoming season. Gifs are included in the story.
As part of the Dak-friendly offense the Cowboys front office has preached about all offseason, Scarbrough is potentially a great fit. Dallas lost a key player in Witten who could be asked to stay in and help in pass-protection when needed, but Scarbrough could fill that role from a different spot on the field. Additionally, while Scarbrough suffered his share of injuries, he averaged 5.7 yards per carry at Alabama and scored 11 touchdowns on only 125 carries in 2016. He also has a rare size/speed combo.
The complete package. This play in the Peach Bowl has ‘two-yard loss’ written all over it. Instead, Scarbrough gets through the first level with his power, shows off his agility and then finishes things off by showing off his speed. Boom, a 68-yard touchdown.
With that in mind, considering the weapon the Cowboys lost (Witten) and the one they acquired (Austin), Scarbrough can help the team execute its game plan. And while there is no suspension lingering over Ezekiel Elliott this season, injuries are part of football. Having Scarbrough to pair with Smith in the backfield would soften the blow a little if Elliott is unable to go at any point.
Connor Williams was expected to be a first-round selection, but the Cowboys saw the former Texas Longhorns star lineman fall into their laps at 50. Williams’ former coach, Tom Herman, explained why Zeke will love running behind C-Will.
SportsDay: You weren’t at Texas yet for the 2016 season. But from what you heard or saw on tape, what role did Connor play in D’Onta Foreman’s 2,028-yard season?
Herman: I didn’t watch much tape from the 2016 season because I wanted everyone to start with a clean slate in my mind, but the assistant coaches did. Based on what they saw, Connor obviously played a key role in D’Onta’s success. He was athletic, physical, competitive and determined to clear the way for D’Onta. He made a lot of big runs and most of the time, Connor was a part of it. He was really impressive in terms of his athletic ability to get outside on perimeter runs and pull on counters and also was physical and tough enough to blow people off the ball on inside zones and powers. He did a tremendous job in all aspects of the game.
SportsDay: How will that translate to his run blocking for Ezekiel Elliott?
Herman: It’s a match made in heaven. That Cowboys O-line has been lauded, and rightfully so, over the past few years, but they’re also blocking for the Offensive Rookie of the Year from a couple years ago and an All-Pro in Zeke. If they stay healthy together - that O-line and Zeke - it should be fun to watch their offense for the next few years. Connor can play a big part in that.
Will the GOAT be joining the Ring of Honor as soon as this season?
In his new job as analyst for ESPN’s Monday Night Football, Witten will make his AT&T Stadium TV debut on Nov. 5 against the Tennessee Titans. Considering the welcome home the Cowboys gave to Tony Romo last fall when he called his first Cowboys game for CBS against the Kansas City Chiefs, with a banner atop one of the end zone field suites and a moving pregame tribute, I wonder how all-out the Cowboys will go for Witten. And I mean all-out. I wonder if Jerry Jones opts to put Witten in the Ring of Honor that night. It might be a little too soon, but given Jones’ affection for Witten and what the tight end meant to the franchise for 15 years, would anybody be opposed to seeing it happen that quickly? Imagine the ceremony at halftime of that game, the big audience on television, the other Ring of Honor members in attendance, Witten’s former teammates there. It would be a great night.
Also, will 82 be ‘retired’?
The Cowboys do not retire numbers officially. Nobody has worn No. 12 in a game since Roger Staubach. Bob Lilly’s 74 gets handed out in training camp, but that has not been worn in a regular-season game since Lilly’s retirement. It’s the same for Troy Aikman’s No. 8 and Emmitt Smith’s No. 22. I wonder if anybody will wear No. 82 again. I highly, highly doubt it. Witten wore No. 49 at his first training camp and moved to No. 82 after Tony McGee was released at the start of the 2003 season. Speaking of numbers, the No. 88 might see a little retirement, too. The original 88, Drew Pearson, hopes so. The number won’t be put away for good, but the receiver will have to be special to get into the club that includes Pearson, Michael Irvin and Dez Bryant.