DALLAS — Tight end Rico Gathers has not yet lived up to the potential the Dallas Cowboys perceived when they drafted the athlete two years ago.
The Cowboys spent a 2016 sixth-round pick on the Baylor Bears men's basketball team's all-time leading rebounder. After experimenting with him at defensive end for a few OTAs, the coaches felt his boxing out skills would best be suited at tight end. However, entering his third season and yet to even make the game day roster, the talk about Gathers has gone from optimistic to realistic.
"He just needs to get better," head coach Jason Garrett said Tuesday. "We're really not talking about him as making the 53-man roster right now, like we’re not talking about anybody in that regard. We're talking about coming in here and getting better every day."
The challenge for Gathers, who had previously not played football since he was 13 years old, isn't so much the pass-catching aspect of playing tight end. In fact, Gathers caught seven passes for 106 yards and two touchdowns in two preseason games last year before sustaining a concussion that kept him on injured reserve for the entire season. However, the blocking part of playing tight end is where Gathers could need improvement.
Said Garrett: "The demands of him at the position are pretty unique. You have to be able to be a run player. You have to be someone who understands protections and routes and adjustments and all of that. You certainly do your best as coaches to put him situations where he can grow in each of those areas as you defense what his role might be to help you and so he was showing some elements of being able to help us until he had the injury."
Even though he could have been eligible to return after eight weeks of being on IR, the coaches kept him there because, according to Garrett, they didn't think the young tight end could help them later on as the season progressed.
"He was in concussion protocol for a long time and at the point that he was able to come back we were too far along during our season for him to make a significant contribution," said Garrett. "You want your players to continue to develop. We tried to do that last year. But that is really the reason why we made that decision, where he was and where we were."
The Cowboys took a tight end in the fourth round of this year's draft in Dalton Schultz from Stanford. Along with dark horse Blake Jarwin on the roster, Gather's shot to make the 53-man roster may be nonexistent if he can't figure out the other aspects of playing tight end that made Jason Witten a legend.
"He just needs to play more football," Garrett said. "We could practice five times a day, that wouldn't be enough for him or a lot of our younger just because they need so much work. So you've got to take advantage of every rep you get."
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