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Cowboys news: What's the plan at tight end, and can Dez Bryant return to form elsewhere?

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With OTA’s coming to an end and mandatory minicamp starting next week, check out Friday’s latest and greatest Cowboys news.

Dallas Cowboys v Los Angeles Rams Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

TE Rico Gathers thinks this offseason move will take him from absorbing blows to delivering them - Jori Epstein, SportsDay
Gathers beefed up this offseason, something he hopes will help him make the team.

After slimming to 265 ahead of last season, Gathers said he's back up to 282, the weight range he played basketball at in college.

"Last year was a big adjustment," Gathers said Wednesday from the Cowboys' last OTA session. "I was going for more trying to be quicker, trying to be faster. But that hurt me in the blocking game a lot where I felt like I was just a body, just a body catching a blow."

His strength and size will be advantages, not deterrents.

"That was the biggest thing I brought to Baylor was that element of size and toughness," Gathers said. "When I was on the floor, everyone knew man, [expletive], it's about to be tough down here."

Gathers hopes to one day establish that same expectation from opposing defensive linemen as he helps chip pass rushers and open holes for the run game so foundational to Dallas' offense. In the passing game, he can muscle over defenders and create space, as SportsDay's Brandon George wrote when Gathers talked recently about recovering from his 2017 concussion.

Gathers will fight for time with Geoff Swaim, Blake Jarwin and rookie Dalton Schultz in the Cowboys tight-ends room. But with 15-year starter Jason Witten's retirement and new coach Doug Nussmeier taking over tight ends, there's opportunity for change.

Can TE Blake Jarwin make his mark on 2018 Cowboys? - Kevin Brady, Inside The Star

It has been a little over a month since Jason Witten announced his retirement from the NFL, the tight end position in Dallas is still looking for the right guy on the roster to take over. A look at second-year TE Blake Jarwin.

According to DallasCowboys.com’s Rob Phillips, Blake Jarwin finished off each of the final open OTA practices with touchdown catches from backup quarterback Cooper Rush. Phillips also reported that Jawrin [sic] has impressed with his ability to separate from defenders downfield and pose a receiving threat thus far in OTAs.

Blake Jarwin was signed as an undrafted free agent back in October of 2017, and considering his versatility as a college tight end and fullback, it’s easy to understand why. At Oklahoma State, Jarwin was used in-line as a traditional tight end, in the slot, and even out wide on the boundary. Jarwin was first team all conference as a Junior, and was named second team all conference following his senior season.

Big changes brewing for Cowboys’ offense after offseason moves - Lindsay H. Jones, Shreveport Times

The tight end position is definitely a jumble, with no proven options.

The tight end group is even more unproven in the wake of Witten’s surprising late-April retirement. Fourth-year veteran Geoff Swaim is the elder statesman of the group now but has nine career catches. Rookie Dalton Schultz or 2017 seventh-round pick Blake Jarwin, who played in just one game as a rookie and had no catches, could ultimately wind up as the team’s starter by September.


How can Dez Bryant return to form? Terrell Owens provides a roadmap - SportsDayDFW

In an interview wit Fox Sports 1’s Undisputed, Owens gives his thoughts on how Dez Bryant can get back on track regardless of which team he ends up with.

Q: What do you think his strengths and weaknesses are at this point?

Owens: It’s all about the offense and how they utilize you. You don’t see him doing a lot of the over-the-middle routes. A lot of the routes have been outside, some of the same things. And that’s why I’ve been so critical of Jason [Garrett] and the Cowboys. I saw that when I played. It’s just like the year we went 13-3, we caught everyone off guard, we were throwing left and right. And then teams had an offseason to really gameplan us, and then our offense started to stifle a little bit. So you have to mix it up. Those are some of the issues that I had, and they felt like I was going against the grain and overstepping my boundaries, stepping on his toes. That’s me being a player because I’m in the mix. I understand the game. So with Dez I see some of those same things that were happening with me. They have to utilize him to his strengths. And if injuries are a reason why his production dipped, that’s one thing. But as coordinator you have to put him in positions to where he can succeed and make plays.

Should the Cowboys Bring Back Dez? - Matt Miller, Bleacher Report

Here’s what Miller had to say:

Bryant is one of the NFL’s best receivers over the last 10 years, but he hasn’t had a 1,000-yard receiving season since 2014. He’s also expected to command starter’s money if and when he does sign. For the return on investment, Bryant isn’t worth it.


Top 10: Newly-Acquired Veteran Leads Broaddus’ 10-Biggest Offseason Surprises - Bryan Broaddus, Dallas Cowboys
Broaddus lists his top 10 surprises of the offseason so far. His top three:

DT Jihad Ward: No one has been more disruptive along the defensive line than Ward. Rod Marinelli had a vision for the player as a defensive tackle instead of end and it appears early to be working out for him. Looking forward to seeing the battles between him and Zack Martin once we get to Oxnard.

OT La'el Collins: This time last season there were questions about Collins moving to offensive tackle and how he would do? This year the only question is why didn’t they try him there sooner?

LB Jaylon Smith: The lateral agility and quickness is starting to return as [is] his confidence. Can end up playing a couple different spots once this is all said and done.

Kony Ealy Is Exactly Where His Career Could Have Started 4 Years Ago - Rob Phillips, Dallas Cowboys
The Cowboys liked Ealy in the 2014 draft, but chose Demarcus Lawrence over Ealy, and it looks like Ealy is now finally in a good spot in Dallas.

Ealy is currently rehabbing from offseason shoulder surgery and says he’s aiming for full participation by the start of training camp. When healthy, he’s a versatile pass rusher who can play either defensive end spot. Dallas seems like a better fit than his previous two stops, the Jets and Patriots, where he often rushed as a stand-up linebacker. Ealy says defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli’s scheme is much more similar to Carolina’s, where he tallied 14 sacks from 2014-16.

“Getting back to the system I’m used to being in,” he said.

Marinelli has always liked a large pass-rushing rotation. Lawrence and Tyrone Crawford return as starters, with 2017 draft picks Taco Charlton and Charles Tapper competing for snaps with 2018 fourth-round pick Dorance Armstrong. Ealy should add experience when he’s back on the field.

Best way for Dallas to utilize Tavon Austin - SportsDay Staff
Jon Machota answered reader questions in a recent chat, and one of them was about Austin's role on the offense.

Q: How do you think is the best way for Dallas to utilize Tavon Austin?

Jon Machota: The Cowboys have been careful about showing too much of him during the OTAs open to reporters. We saw a little more of him on Wednesday. The best way to utilize him is by simply finding ways to get him the ball in space. I see them doing that with underneath throws, screens, jet sweeps, etc. As long as he's making plays and hanging onto the football, Austin could get the second-most touches on offense behind Ezekiel Elliott. I know some think he's just going to be used like Lucky Whitehead or Ryan Switzer. There will be more involvement than that. He's going to have the opportunity to have a big year.

Smith brothers excited about their camp, Cowboys - Stephen Hunt, The Journal Gazette
Some hometown love for the Smith brothers from the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette:

During his 10-minute media session, Jaylon was asked if he'd be receptive to playing other linebacker spots than middle, where he made his NFL debut on Sept. 10, 2017, against Denver. And as expected, he said he'll do whatever it takes to help the Cowboys win.

“It's all about just being able to contribute to The Star and help us win. I'm a team player,” he said. “None of this (other stuff) matters if we're losing, so we're going to focus on winning every day.”

However, Rod's situation with the Cowboys isn't so clear-cut. Even after playing a career-high 13 games last season, one where star running back Ezekiel Elliott was out while serving a six-game suspension, Rod faces stiffer competition to keep his roster spot. But if the 6-3, 235-pound Harding product is worried, he doesn't sound like it.

“I've been going out there with a chip on my shoulder. I feel like a lot of people still sleep on me, sleep on my talent, what I can do and what I can bring to the game,” Rod said.

Of course, whenever Rod needs a little extra motivation, he can look to his brother, who has always pushed him to reach his full potential.

“Yeah, it makes you work even harder,” he said. “Honestly, we've always been that way growing up, seeing each other make a play and then going out and making a play for ourselves. It's always good to have that energy in the locker room with me.”

NFL executives give Cowboys a poor offseason grade - RJ Ochoa, Blogging The Boys

Ochoa gives his thoughts on what he thinks of the offseason grade given to the Cowboys by NFL executives from a poll that ESPN did.

This is the driest month of the year as far as football activity goes. People struggle for things to do (I’ve thought about getting a ping pong table personally) and they struggle for things to talk about.

Despite the fact that all students between kindergarten and high school are on summer vacation, this is also the biggest time of year for grades. Those are never wrong, right?

It’s like clockwork at this point. We get offseason grades, the ESPYs happen, it’s Little League World Series time, and bam we’re suddenly in the middle of preseason football. While it’d be a lot easier if we could eliminate some of the procedures, the nature of humans forbids it.

The grades in question today come from the worldwide leader. ESPN polled various NFL executives and factored in things like coaching changes, free agency, the draft and more to determine where each team ultimately stood. They gave the Cowboys a C. That’s a C as in Cowboys.

Are Cowboys primed to be 2018’s ‘most disappointing’ NFL team? - Mike Fisher, 247Sports

Fisher gives points on both why and why not the Cowboys could disappoint in 2018. You be the judge...

*Is “the plan to run the ball 600 times like in 1986’’? No. That would make them Walter Payton’s 1986 Bears, who ran it 606 times (and went 14-2).

But the plan might be to run the ball like in 2016. That would give them 499 rushes and replicate Ezekiel Elliott’s Cowboys of that season, who went 12-4.

Is that too retro and lacking in creativity? I frankly fear that it might be. But I also believe that with the way this roster is constructed, with its strengths and weaknesses, it might be the 2018 Cowboys’ only way to win big.

*Will Jerry Jones cling to a coach he can micro-manage?’’ Well, that’s a “yes’’ and a “no.’’

I’m on-record as predicting that a non-playoff season this year will result in coach Jason Garrett being “Red Man Walking.’’ (I’ve been writing that since March.) And that’ll be the determining factor, not this constant, tired echo-chamber portrayal as Jerry as puppeteer and his employees as puppets. If Garrett is a puppet, then doesn’t that mean Will McClay and Rod Marinelli are puppets? Who would like to stand in line and issue that accusation to their faces?

Maybe one truly needs to live inside The Star in Frisco to plow beyond the “micro-manage’’ memes. Once upon a time, Jerry worked to be involved at that level, for better or for worse. That time is not now. A critic would actually sound more informed about the inner-workings of the Cowboys if he accused COO Stephen Jones of plunging his hands into areas all across the Cowboys map. Stephen. Not Jerry.

Mailbag: Where Is the Cowboys’ 2019 Salary Cap Space Coming From? - DallasCowboys.com

David Helman and Bryan Broaddus answer fan questions, one of which is about where all the salary cap room in 2019 is coming from.

Broaddus: As dumb as you might feel this front office is when it comes to evaluations, they do have a really good handle on how to structure contracts. They have a plan of who they want to pay and what is the current value of that player and how it works out long-term.