FRISCO, Texas – Much like first-round pick Tyler Smith wearing Larry Allen's old No. 73, rookie tight end Jake Ferguson knows the history behind No. 48 with the Dallas Cowboys.
His grandfather made sure of it.
"He actually texted me and was like, 'You better not be throwing shade on 48,'" Ferguson laughed.
His grandfather, former longtime Wisconsin head football coach Barry Alvarez, worked with Daryl Johnston in the FOX broadcast booth a few years ago. "Moose" Johnston wore No. 48 for 11 seasons in Dallas, including all three Super Bowl teams in the 1990s, and was the lead blocker for a large chunk of Emmitt Smith's NFL-record 18,355 career rushing yards.
"Moose and (No.) 48," Ferguson said with reverence. "Some guys are like, 'Oh, he's (wearing) 48.' I'm like, 'You guys don't know who wore 48.'"
Maybe it's not a sexy number, but it signifies blocking grit and excellence -- something Ferguson, a fourth-round pick, hopes to provide.
Tight end depth became a clear draft need when the Cowboys released Blake Jarwin, who underwent hip surgery in February. Starter Dalton Schultz is back on the one-year franchise tag, but Ferguson will have a chance to earn a spot in the rotation and help create space for the running game, which saw a drop in production after the bye week last season as Ezekiel Elliott battled through a knee injury.
"We need it," Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy said. "The play style that we've established here, he definitely fits into that. But the versatility to play on the ball, off the ball, we talked about it a little bit (last week). He has experience already playing in a pro punt formation (on special teams), just little things like that, just because of the way Paul (Chryst) plays up there at Wisconsin. It's definitely that we need more of, and I think Jake's an excellent fit for us."
Ferguson said he didn't exactly love the blocking part of his job when he first got to Wisconsin, but it's part of the program's DNA, and he embraced it over time.
"Going to Wisconsin, that's first, second, pretty much third down we're blocking. If it's six yards, we think we can get it on the ground and we're going to go for it," he said. "Finally getting through those five years at Wisconsin, that's something I love doing. That's all it is – a mindset in the trenches. You've got to love it."
He showed potential as a receiver, too, catching a career-high 46 passes as a senior. He studied tape of NFL tight ends, including Schultz, to improve his overall game.
"Just watching him and especially all the other tight ends that have been through here, they're all smooth," Ferguson said. "They're not the fastest guys, they're not the strongest guys, but they're smooth, and smooth is fast and fast is smooth. You watch those guys, they're smart, they know where the holes are in the defense, they know what to do in the trenches, their technique is there. So just being able to try to perfect my craft and get to that level is something that I really pride myself on and really try to get to."
"I've got to work to get to those points to even be considered with the guys that have been through here – Dalton Schultz, I look up to those guys, Jason Witten – some of those absolute ballers."