OXNARD, Calif. – To say one of the Cowboys' best players in training camp has been a tight end is certainly not surprising.
The fact that it's not only Jason Witten is even more of a surprise.
Nothing against Witten, who has been as rock-solid as ever during his 13th camp, but his backup Gavin Escobar looks every bit ready to turn the corner as he enters his third season. The only thing that has slowed him down has been a minor head injury this week that has kept him out of practices.
But make no mistake, Escobar's progress has the Cowboys excited about him becoming another weapon to this attack.
That was evident during a practice this week here at the River Ridge practice fields when Escobar lined out wide to the right during a play, and defensive backs coach Jerome Henderson shouted instructions to his corners.
"Treat Escobar like a receiver," Henderson said, meaning the cornerbacks needed to stay on Escobar instead of a linebacker shifting over.
That's the development in Escobar's game. He's become such a receiving threat that he's starting to form mismatches on the field. Either the linebackers aren't quick enough to cover him, or the smaller corners can't jump with him.
To Escobar, his approach hasn't changed.
"I just take advantage of my opportunities when the ball is thrown my way to make some plays," he said. "I feel like I've done that the last few years and I'm just going to continue to do that."
Obviously, the Cowboys already have one tight end who catches, blocks and anything else the team needs from him in Witten. But Escobar said he's striving to be that as well – more than just a guy who can run routes.
"In this offense you have to be well-rounded," Escobar said. "You can't just be one-dimensional. That's what I've bene working on and what I'll continue to work on."
In two seasons, Escobar has just 18 catches – nine in each year. Certainly, that production seems low for a second-round pick, but head coach Jason Garrett said he's anything but disappointed in his progress.
"We feel good about what Escobar has done since he's been here. A lot of people say when you drafted a guy that high, they want him to come in and be an immediate starter," Garrett said. "What he needs to focus on is taking full advantage of his opportunities and trying to get better each and every day, and he's certainly done that. He's the right kind of guy, he works really hard at getting better every day and we've seen that progress. When he gets an opportunity, he'll be ready for it."
[embeddedad0]Most of Escobar's success in 2014 was in the red-zone, and more specifically, the end zone. Four of his nine catches were touchdowns, including two in one game against the Giants.
At 6-6, he's got the height to go up for the ball, something the Cowboys already have on one side of the line with Dez Bryant. That's why Escobar said he has worked with Bryant this season on his jump-ball plays.
"I have this technique the last two years, and I just switched it up the other day because I watch what Dez does," Escobar said. "The timing works better, the ball-placement is better. I think me and Tony have it down. It's just a feel-thing. It's just little footwork things."
And that's just another example how the Cowboys will likely use Escobar off the line of scrimmage more, splitting him out wide to create mismatches.
"In this offense, tight ends can be used almost as receiver," Escobar said. "When we have three tight ends on the field, one of them basically is a receiver. I'm trying to make progress in the red zone, as a receiver."
And when he sees a smaller cornerback on the opposite side, that's when his eyes light up the most.
"Oh, I get very excited," he said with a smile. "I know they're going to throw up and it's my job to go get it."
So far, Escobar has been getting it, and much more. If this continues, just add his name to the list of an already-potent offense – an offense that will always welcome another weapon.