The Scout's Eye takes a look at the Tight Ends:
There was plenty made before the season how we would see this Cowboys offense evolve into a scheme that would utilize its tight ends more in a "12" personnel package. With Jason Witten, James Hanna and the drafting of Gavin Escobar at the time, that approach made a great deal of sense.
Early in the season, we did see a great deal of "12" but what became the most dominate package as the season wore on was the "11". Where we did see this offense take advantage of these tight ends, was in the red zone. It was very clear while our time in Oxnard, that Jason Garrett and Bill Callahan were going to get Jason Witten more involved in this area, which I had always believed was the right approach because of the physical mismatches that he can present. You could even say this about Escobar and the options that he could give you in this area.
If you look at the overall picture for the group, there were 94 receptions for 1168 yards and 10 touchdowns which was surprising. I honestly believed that this group would have had better overall numbers. And 73 of those 94 receptions came from Witten and after his 2012 season where he caught 110 passes, I thought we would have seen maybe 10 to 15 more receptions from him. I understand that several of those passes went into other directions such as DeMarco Murray, Cole Beasley and Dwayne Harris, which is understandable because they were making plays.
There were also games where defensive coordinators were not going to let Witten beat them in games but I expected so much more from James Hanna and it was disappointing that he only had 12 receptions for the season. If you would have told me that was going to be his number for the season, I would not have believed you. He is just too productive as a route runner and those questions from his rookie season about his hands in my opinion were put to rest last season. Hanna was never able to get things going and when he did get the ball thrown in his direction, it appeared that he was either off balance and in a bad position to do anything after the catch.
I know there are plenty of folks that look at Gavin Escobar as a wasted selection in the 2nd round and it is easy to do when you look at some of the issues this team had on the defense and how that pick could have gone in a different direction to help there.
Just speaking from experience, I look at Escobar as a big picture selection. I never fault a team, not just the Cowboys for taking a player at whatever spot they deemed right at the time. I would have not taken Travis Frederick in the first round and most likely other teams around the league would have thought the same thing. But as these clubs all get together to meet on this upcoming draft, there is going to be a General Manager that is going to remind his scouts how well Frederick played this season and maybe all those negative things that were said about him, needed to be thought about again.
There will be a day where Jason Witten walks away from this game. At 31 years old, you hope that he can hold on for three to five more seasons but this is why you take a shot at a guy like Escobar. He is a dominate run blocker? No, not at all but does he know how to run routes, get open and secure the ball? Yes, he does. Just about the time that Witten starts to slow, Escobar becomes your seasoned veteran that allows you to still get a high level of production from the tight end position.
I get the numbers were not great from Escobar but when the ball did go in his direction, he was there to make a play. The Rams, Giants and Eagles games, he was there to deliver. To get upset at him is the wrong approach because of where he was taken in the draft. Get upset if he didn't show you flashes of any promise, which you can't say he didn't. Big picture drafting pays off more than you would ever know.
If this group did improve in one area as the season wore on, it would have to be its point of attack blocking. As well as DeMarco Murray ran the ball and this offensive line was able to move people, the tight ends did their part to help. Witten, Hanna and Escobar's ability to work with these tackles in this zone scheme gives you hope that they could continue what we were able to see. There were times where they were outstanding setting the edge and to be able to have success in the running game you have to have those types of efforts to make it work and as a group they were able to do that.