When it comes to Rico Gathers, you either love him or you hate him. For the last couple years, many of us are desperately holding on to the idea of what he could be - the super-athletic, former basketball player who’s out there leaping over defenders and snagging passes. Sorta like this...
But then there are others who are frustrated that the he still struggles doing some of the basic fundamentals of the tight end position. Jerry Jones did nothing to help us understand where Rico stands in the grand scheme of things with this backhanded compliment.
Real talk on Rico Gathers from Jerry Jones: "He blocks well when he's blocking the right man. He's got enough there, but the angst comes when you're sitting there looking at the guy that's not on the roster because you kept him on the roster."— Clarence Hill Jr (@clarencehilljr) August 19, 2018
Yes, it’s been rumored blocking the right man is important. And Jones is the master of second-guessing himself and since some tough roster decisions are looking them square in the face in a couple weeks, figuring this Rico-thing out is important.
Gathers playmaking ability is something we all want for this offense. If just somehow they can find a way to make it work. It’s not always clear what the issue is when it comes to Rico’s progress, but head coach Jason Garrett gave us a little example:
He’s getting better as a blocker. He’s getting better at some of the other decision making parts of the game that he has to make. Understanding his assignments when the defense changes, all those things that have been challenging for a guy who hasn’t played that much football.
Garrett would be asked to get into specifics.
Typically, it’s fronts and assignments. When you have a real clean idea what the front is and you have this guy, he can do a pretty decent job at that. He still has to work on his technique, but often times in this game the front changes, this guy comes down, this guy slides over, the ball’s snapped. For a guy who is just starting to play again for a long, long time, sometimes those can be challenging situations and causes him to be hesitant and not use his physical ability. You just got to keep putting him in those situations and hopefully he will continue to grow.
Yes, they do have to keep putting him in those situations, but based on how the playing time is being distributed, is Gathers getting enough chances? So far this preseason, his snaps have taken a backseat to the other tight ends, with limited action and ever worse - reps with deeper reserves. While that may be frustrating for fans, the coaching staff has given priority to the tight ends that they know are making the team. Getting reps for Geoff Swaim, Blake Jarwin, and rookie Dalton Schultz are very important as the team figures out the roles of each of these players. The team just hasn’t had the time to give Rico the same opportunities, but that might be changing real soon.
Rico Gathers with a first-team snap and catch from Dak Prescott on a hot route. Folks might get what they want and see him play a lot vs. Arizona.— Todd Archer (@toddarcher) August 20, 2018
I don’t know if Rico deserves to be on this roster. He’s definitely a bubble guy, but why not turn this guy loose and see what he can do with the starters. Let’s give Geoff Swaim a little breather and give Gathers his reps. Swaim is the most experienced of the Cowboys tight ends. Is there really that much to gain by giving him those extra reps? Put Gathers in there and see how he handles these game situations against starting defenses. Maybe he’s completely outmatched and this will expose him to be a player that is clearly not ready for the NFL. Or maybe he and Dak Prescott develop a connection and it provides a boost the the Cowboys passing attack. If memory serves, the last time he faced off against the Arizona Cardinals, he got to do a touchdown celebration dance.
Let’s have more of that!
Once the fourth and final preseason game rolls around, none of the important people are playing. That’s the time where guys can make their final push to prove they deserve a spot on an NFL team. It might seem like that this game would be the most likely chance for Gathers to get the most playing time, but what’s that going prove? If Rico has a great game against scrubs, that doesn’t really indicate if he’s up for the challenge of NFL-caliber competition. Let him get some time with the first team and Sunday’s game against Arizona is the last chance for that.
The team has a plan and it’s very possible that bumping Rico’s playing time was going to happen all long. The Cowboys could very well have wanted him to spend this extra time developing his weaknesses before opening things up for him to do what he does best. Or maybe Rico’s leaping snag against the Cincinnati Bengals made them consider that he needs more chances. Time will tell how this Rico experiment plays out, but if I had any say, I’m giving Rico reps early and often against the Cardinals.