DALLAS — Tight end Rico Gathers has been given the benefit of the doubt throughout his three seasons in the NFL, but the Dallas Cowboys need to see something tangible out of the former Baylor Bear.
The Cowboys traded up to select the Baylor men's basketball career rebounds leader in the sixth round of the 2016 NFL draft. With visions of Jimmy Graham, Tony Gonzalez, and Antonio Gates, the Cowboys thought they could turn the 6-6, 282-pound forward into a tight end. Three seasons, 15 games, all in 2018, three catches and 45 yards later, Dallas is still waiting for Gathers to emerge from his cocoon as a polished tight end.
Coach Jason Garrett outlined it clearly Tuesday ahead of the club's first day of mandatory minicamp at The Star what the club needs to see from Gathers.
"Just continue to grow and be someone we can count on and rely on to put in the game and do things we’re asking our tight ends to do," Garrett said. "He’s gotten better really each and every year, he takes a really good approach. I think he’s learned how to become a professional and continue to grow."
The catching part for Gathers comes naturally with his athletic ability and dominating frame. However, there is more to being a tight end than catching passes, and it is the blocking part that has boxed out the former Baylor Bear.
"It’s not an easy position," said Garrett. "You have to be reasonably involved in the running game, reasonably involved in the passing game so there’s a lot of things for him to continue to learn. He’s definitely getting better and better."
2019 is the final season for Gathers on his rookie contract. With Geoff Swaim gone to Jacksonville, Gathers had Blake Jarwin and Dalton Schultz to compete against for top spot on the depth chart. With a certain Hall-of-Famer in Jason Witten returning to the Cowboys, it became even more challenging for Gathers to get to the top.
Still, Garrett insists that all Gathers needs to focus on is his growth and not worry about Witten.
Said Garrett: "He just has to continue to grow. He has to step up and 'hey, we can put him in. We like what he’s doing when he’s in there.' That’s what we’re going to ask the other tight ends to do."
The Cowboys are at 90 men on their roster. They won't have to start making decisions on who stays and who goes until August. In the meantime, Gathers is demonstrating enough effort, ability, and focus to build confidence with the coaches.
"He goes about it the right way, he’s getting better," Garrett said. "We’ll make decisions about how we’re cutting the team down in a couple months from now but he’s certainly taking the right approach."
Do you think that Rico Gathers will be able to carve out a role for himself in the Cowboys offense or is he doomed to be regulated to the fourth tight end again? Share your thoughts on the tight end depth chart with Mark on Twitter @therealmarklane.