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Cowboys 2018 training camp: Is it time to wave the white flag on the Rico Gathers experiment?

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Some things are real, some things are fantasy. Which is Rico Gathers?

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NFL: Dallas Cowboys-Minicamp Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

When we were kids, our parents duped us into believing that an old, fat man in a red suit would bring us (spoiler alert) wonderful presents on Christmas day. Sure, we had our doubts about the logistics of how one person with the help of flying animals would pull off such a time-consuming, labor extensive activity. A lot of things didn’t add up. But there were toys so it was an easy sell. Why question this greatness?

We want to believe in things that are great, but sometimes reality sets in and squanders that ability. This appears to be happening with the career of Rico Gathers. It was intriguing when the Dallas Cowboys selected him in the sixth round of the 2016 NFL Draft. He was a basketball power forward from Baylor and hadn’t played organized football since middle school. He was a project guy, with great size and athleticism that has helped spawned other tight end careers such as Tony Gonzalez and Antonio Gates. And when he was snagging touchdown passes out of thin air in preseason last year, we started getting excited about what Rico could do for this offense.

Even though fans were pumped up about what he could offer, the coaching staff held a different view. He’s just never been ready. The team put him on the shelf toward the middle of last season even when he had fully recovered from his concussion.

But this year is a new season for Gathers. He’s healthy and the team is salivating at the mouth to have someone step in at the tight end position after the retirement of Jason Witten. Can Gathers be that guy?

Well, that was the hope, but early signs aren’t good. Prior to training camp, the whole dilemma for Gathers is how far behind he is when it comes to the blocking aspect of the tight end position. But for Rico, his deficiencies are not limited to just blocking as he’s struggled with all the intricacies of the position. Blocking, route-running, getting his body turned in the right position when he catches the ball - these are all things that he’s having problems with.

Calvin Watkins from The Athletic included this snippet about Gathers in his practice report:

It’s unclear who will be the starting tight end. The Cowboys have used Dalton Schultz with the first team and rotated everybody else with the exception of Rico Gathers

During a drill, Garrett yelled at Gathers for not coming out of his break low enough. The problem at times with Gathers, a former Baylor basketball power forward trying to play football, is that he doesn’t run smoothly. It appears as if he’s fighting himself to relax and run routes.

Not only that, but the other guys out there competing with him are doing things correctly and his performance is standing out.

BTB Alum Rabblerousr is at camp and he has a front row seat to all the action. Here is what he is seeing thus far:

Jarwin is quick off the line, has great body control in and out of cuts and catches the ball with authority. I was happy to observe that Schultz catches the ball easily and naturally; in a two-minute drill against air, he ran a corner route that required him to catch the ball over his left shoulder, and he made it look easy.

The less good news on this front is that Rico Gathers was by far the worst of the bunch.

Regarding Rico...

He lacks explosion and dropped a couple of balls that hit him right in the hands. Most condemning, to my mind, was Gathers’ lack of body control; he struggled to stay above his feet when cutting and therefore had difficulty getting out of his breaks.

As a result, he tended to round off the routes that Jarwin ran crisply. Obviously, I’m working from a small sample size but, based on this one day, I’d be shocked if Gathers makes the roster.

It’s still early, but these are the types of things that will keep him off the roster. There is a lot of quality talent deep along some of the other positions where the team cannot afford to save a spot on such an uncertainty as Gathers. With so many talented receivers, may Dallas go deep there. Our own Tom Ryle already touched on how 10 personnel could be used more, which doesn’t even require a tight end to be on the field. And with both Jarwin and Schultz already demonstrating good play in practice, the Cowboys could have a couple balanced options at tight end when they do trot on the field.

Training camp has just gotten started so Gathers still has plenty of opportunity to prove he belongs on the team. But from where I stand right now, it’s not looking good for him.