FRISCO, Texas - According to Dalton Schultz, Jason Witten always made a point to remind him and Blake Jarwin of an adage he'd picked up over his Hall of Fame career, which doesn't exactly sound encouraging.
"To put it in his words, tight end is a job where you're kind of the weak/strong guy, and the slow/fast guy," Schultz remembers.
Witten was simply trying to tell his young successors that the guy covering you or the guy you're supposed to be blocking will have physical traits that you simply can't match, so preparedness will be crucial to winning matchups.
"You're always at a disadvantage at whatever situation you're in so you have to use your mental tools to beat a guy who's maybe faster and more athletic than you," Schultz says. "Or beat a guy who's bigger and stronger than you at the line of scrimmage."
With Witten off to the Raiders, Schultz' offensive snaps are liable to double or even triple this season, but in his first year under new head coach Mike McCarthy, he'll face a matchup that even Witten never took on. It appears through training camp that the third year tight end will also be incorporated into the offense as a fullback.
While Schultz is still lining up at times as a traditional tight end, and even had a good training camp with several great catches down the field, they are expanding his role and where he lines up. Schultz told the media this week that the difference in position was apparent before the ball is even snapped. He had a brand new vantage point of the defense.
"It makes life a little bit easier because when you're back there in the backfield, you see the whole picture," he said. "You can get so much more information. It's a different ball game because you have to see blocks like Zeke sees them."
You don't see a lot of 6-5 fullbacks, but McCarthy is known to like to put out formations with versatile players and a lot of possibilities. But that matchup disadvantage that Witten spoke of takes on a whole new meaning for Schultz at fullback.
"You're barreling down on a guy that's a couple inches shorter than you and packs a hell of a punch, so if you come through that hole you got to make sure you stay low and come correct," he said, adding that practicing against Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch certainly underscored that point.
How many real-game snaps Schultz actually takes in the backfield is anyone's guess, but the option is certainly intriguing. He could receive a handoff. He could even still serve as a pass catcher from the backfield. But if he's going to be playing any fullback, he's ultimately going to be asked to block. Schultz claims that he's had conversations with Ezekiel Elliott about how the Pro Bowl runner sees certain gaps to run through depending on the play.
"He's a hell of back so as long as you get a shoulder on a guy, he's going to make you [look good]," he said of Elliott. "I trust his judgment. I see it the way he sees it. It's nice when you have a running back who's able to have a conversation with you, too."
As far as the tight end position goes, Schultz insisted that he and Jarwin are ready for their increased opportunities. Their previous tight ends coach Doug Nussmeier has now taken over as the Cowboys quarterbacks coach, a move that Schultz says the tight ends have been playfully giving him a hard time about. But he also claims that having someone in the quarterbacks' room that is so familiar with the tight ends' abilities is an asset for them.
"We have a great relationship with Nuss," Schultz said. "Keeping him close by has been good for us. It allows that connection between the tight end and the quarterback to be pretty seamless."
There will be new expectations for Schultz and Jarwin. There looks to be completely new responsibilities for Schultz in particular. But one thing they have to their advantage is the time they got with a Hall of Fame tight end mentoring them, and that's something they'll take into this season.
"We learned more from [Witten] in that year than I probably would have learned in five. He gave us a big head start that we're trying to capitalize on."