FRISCO, Texas – Blake Jarwin didn't even have the good fortune to be the Cowboys' most notable injury of 2020.
In most NFL seasons, the loss of the starting tight – an ascending player, who had just signed a $22 million contract extension – would be a dominant storyline.
During the avalanche of misfortune that was the Cowboys' 2020 season, Jarwin going down in the first half of Week 1 with a torn ACL wound up feeling like a footnote.
"Obviously, my expectation for myself was pretty high, and then just to go down like that in the first half of the first game was pretty tough," he said last week.
It might have been overshadowed by injuries to the likes of Dak Prescott, Tyron Smith and La'el Collins, but the loss of Jarwin so early in the season is a tremendous what-if from this past season.
The Cowboys felt strongly enough about their former undrafted free agent to sign him to an extension on the strength of just 11 starts. Seeing his counterpart, Dalton Schultz, succeed to the tune of 63 catches for 615 yards makes it easy to wonder what Jarwin might have done with a full season of his own.
"Just to see him kind of have that success on the field, I'm just happy for him," Jarwin said of Schultz. "I'm excited to get back out there and compete with him. I think it's going to be great for both of us, and I think both of us on the field at the same time will be awesome, as well."
That thought raises a fascinating development from the past two years. It wasn't that long ago that tight end was viewed as one of the Cowboys' glaring weaknesses in the wake of Jason Witten's retirement. Here in 2021, with Schultz coming off a career year and Jarwin rebounding from his injury, there's plenty of reason for optimism about the position.
Asked about that, though, Jarwin said he's eager to prove it on the field.
"I think the No. 1 goal for us is don't ever get complacent with it," he said. "We've got to push each other. I think we've got a good room."
The tight end room, led by second-year tight end coach Lunda Wells, lost Blake Bell to free agency in March. The Cowboys offset that by signing veteran Jeremy Sprinkle. Second-year tight end Sean McKeon is back in the mix, and the front office added two more undrafted rookies in Nick Eubanks and Artayvious Lynn.
"Lunda does a good job pushing us, and I think we as players push each other pretty well," Jarwin said. "It's always a challenge every day, learning stuff every single day. But I think we've built the right foundation to be great."
For Jarwin, the next step is getting back into the mix himself. When OTAs were opened for the media for the first time last week, Jarwin was present but not participating, as he continues to rehab the injury that ended his season. That's by design, as he noted there's still a long way to go until the team reports to training camp.
"There's really no reason, I guess, to rush into it," he said. "Just make sure that I'm feeling good – and I feel good. I'll just keep pushing along, and I anticipate, Day 1 of training camp, being ready to roll."
All the more reason to look forward to training camp. With so many players returning from injury, there were always going to be intriguing storylines. And while Jarwin might not be the headliner, his return to the lineup isn't something to be overlooked.
"I'm excited, and my goal is to be the best I've ever been by Day 1 of training camp and carry that into the season, and let's just roll from there," he said.