OXNARD, Calif.— You've not been asleep under a rock this offseason, so you're very aware at this point that Dalton Schultz will be suiting up for the Houston Texans in 2023 and not the Dallas Cowboys. Enter Jake Ferguson, the de facto TE1 heading into training camp, his role being precipitously different than it was a year ago when he was a rookie learning the process.
He sounds ready for what’s to come, though, and that is mainly leading a room full of young tight ends that include fellow 2022 alum Peyton Hendershot and rookie second-round pick Luke Schoonmaker.
"Yeah, it's definitely different," said Ferguson. "But I mean, you've gotta expect that there's change every year. And I think [tight ends coach Lunda Wells] has done a really good job of just making sure everybody in the room is ready for whenever their number gets called. And I think this room was really, really good — top to bottom.
"Anybody can play. And I think a lot of guys in this room are gonna make plays and are making plays right now."
It's a tight ends room full of Big-Ten talent in Dallas, and Ferguson noted that helps expedite the chemistry in the corps, even if it is sometimes playfully competitive based upon who went to what school, but it all works toward the greater good of the collective. So no matter which tight end is making the play, every one of them is celebrating.
After all, let's not forget the famed Hogtie and Whack-A-Mole celebrations.
"Running down the line giving them high fives," said Ferguson. "That's what it's all about is that next generation and just kind of trying to inspire."
As noted, things are different in training camp No. 2 for the former Wisconsin star turned Cowboys playmaker, but has any of it changed how he's chosen to prepare for the 2023 season — outside of giving up potato chips and adding visible muscle to his frame?
"Definitely," he said. "I wouldn't say I'm comfortable but I would say just more [comfortable than I was as a rookie]. I think I know what's going on and I know what to expect a little bit more, and I know what to expect out of myself, but also that ceiling that I think I need to reach as a player and also for this team.
"I mean, I love it. Like kind of came out last year. I was like, 'Oh, I don't really know.' And now this year, I'm like, 'Go put your head down and let's get after it.'"
But, again, it's a collective, and that means for as much as Ferguson is a leader, so are the others in the room, particularly a veteran like Sean McKeon (who was once a teammate of Schoonmaker at Michigan in 2019).
"I think we got a lot of great guys that have leadership qualities," said Ferguson. "I think, in different scenarios, I might be a leader. In some scenarios, I might be following, but that's okay. I think we have a great dynamic in our room right now."
And speaking of Schoonmaker, the second-round pick is nursing plantar fasciatis but is out of his walking boot, though not yet ready to take the practice field. That hasn't stopped him from taking mental reps and performing phantom drills on the sideline during team drills to try and remain as engaged as possible, and to help ensure he's not falling too far behind.
This is key when considering it's also his first-ever NFL camp and every rookie has a learning curve by default, with his being potentially exacerbated by his current absence due to injury.
Ferguson is excited about what he sees in Schoonmaker though, despite being relegated to the sideline for now.
"It's always tough not being able to be in there with an injury," said Ferguson. "That's something you can't really control. But when he's not out there, you see him going through those mental reps. You can see how much he wants to be out there."
It sounds as if Schoonmaker isn't far from joining his tight end brethren though, that is if you use his energy level and willingness to show his enthusiasm physically as a measuring stick.
"Today, he was so fired up that he was running and almost slipped and I was like, 'Calm down. We're just in a walkthrough right now, Schoon,'" Ferguson said with a huge grin. "That's great to see though — him taking in the mental reps. And that's what you've got to do so when he does get in there he's gonna be lights-out."
The latter can be said about Ferguson as well in Year 2, given what he showed in Year 1.
Just ask C.J. Gardner-Johnson.
If you know, you know.