FRISCO, Texas – If you think it sounds weird that guys like Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott are already entering their fourth pro season, just remember that Rico Gathers was also in the same draft class back in 2016.
While he certainly hasn't played in as many games – only 15 to be exact – but this is now the fourth pro season for Gathers, who came to the Cowboys as a special project. Drafted in the sixth round in 2016 with no real experience in organized football in high school or college, Gathers has now worked his way from the practice squad, to the 53-man roster two years ago, to a guy who was part of the tight end rotation last year.
So what's next for Gathers? His goal isn't just to make the team, but to build off of last year, which saw him play 15 of 16 games.
"I'm just trying to make some big leaps and take advantage of every opportunity they throw my way and just show my progression," said Gathers, who played four seasons of basketball at Baylor before making the decision to play football. "It's just one step at a time."
In 2019, the step for Gathers should be able to get more involved in the offense. He played in most of the games, but was targeted only seven times – hauling in three passes for 45 yards.
The production isn't that high, but the entire experience has helped Gathers gained much more confidence as he enters his fourth year.
"Just the picking up on everything is second nature now," Gathers said. "Actually getting that year under my belt to get out there, make mistakes, play, get better and grow as a player. It really helped me get into this year. I can play fast and execute my assignments and do what I need to do."
One thing Gathers said he's not doing much is thinking. And that's a good thing.
"The less you have to think about what you have to do, the better you are in the execution side of things," he said. "This whole offseason I've tried to study game film of last year and just analyze the growth where I've come from. It's all over the tape – just my progression."
But making the team won't be an easy chore for Gathers. The Cowboys not only have Blake Jarwin and Dalton Schultz in the mix, but also Jason Witten, who is back for his 16th season.
The room might be crowded, but it has more wisdom all of a sudden.
"I look at Jason as a player/coach," Gathers said. "(He's) a guy that will be able to show you but also able to talk numbers – unlimited football with you with his knowledge. He's been here 16 years, that's a big edge to have in your room."
And despite being here now four seasons, Gathers still needs every "edge" he can get it.