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Tight Ends Embracing Competition For Increased Role


IRVING, Texas – If it wasn't obvious before, the Cowboys are doing their best to draw attention to it – tight end is going to be a focal point of the offense in 2013.

The Cowboys signed veteran tight end Dante Rosario to the roster Monday, half a year after they witnessed Jason Witten's best professional season, and a month after they made Gavin Escobar the third tight end selection of the NFL draft.

"He can do a really good job as a receiver – a receiving tight end," said Cowboys owner/general manager Jerry Jones of Rosario on Wednesday. "I think he gives you the ability to move around as an H-back, and some activity like that."

If Jones' comments about emulating the Patriots' tight end duo of Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez didn't ring true in April, they should even more after this new addition. Jones and Cowboys coach Jason Garrett spoke at length following the draft of the desire to implement a 12 – or two tight end – formation, using their big pass-catchers as mismatches.

With Witten, Escobar, James Hanna and now Rosario on board, that was hardly idle talk, if the activity at the team's OTAs is any indication.

"With his ability to catch the ball – and he does have it – coupled with Escobar, coupled with Hanna and obviously Witten, it's pretty obvious we're going to our 12 formation and we're going to be in it a lot," Jones said.

Of course, that sounds great in June, when players are wearing merely shorts and helmets. The Cowboys have tried to pair Witten with high draft picks like Anthony Fasano and Martellus Bennett in the past with forgettable results.

Witten, with a decade of experience behind him, said the success of that type of system isn't so much on scheme, but on players adjusting to their place in the offense.

"It's just how those guys transition to their role – accepting that, developing that and keep getting better. Don't take it as 'I'm a backup player,' but 'Hey, I'm going to find my role and my niche,'" Witten said. "The pace and the tempo is going to keep getting better until you find your role, and that's challenge more than anything else."

That could certainly be an obstacle for Escobar, who goes from the focal point of his college offense to an understudy to one of the game's best tight ends. The San Diego State product said it has been beneficial following Witten's lead in the early going of his career, however.

"In college when you're the guy at tight end … guys are coming up to you to kind of lean on," he said. "But when you're kind of low on the totem pole now, and you're competing with one of the best – it's just making me better, making all the tight ends better."

 Witten's words were directed at Escobar, but they might apply even better to Hanna. The two-year veteran made strides toward the end of his rookie season, finishing with seven catches for 76 yards in the last month of 2012. The arrival of a competitor as a second round draft pick could be an even bigger mental challenge of confidence than a physical one for playing time. [embedded_ad]

"It's just a business. But it kind of provides motivation – competition, which is always good," Hanna said. "I like the kid, he's got a lot of skills so it's good for the team. I plan on pushing him, and I hope he pushes me so we can be as good as we can be."

The Cowboys know what they've got in Witten, a Hall of Famer who has managed more than 90 catches and more than 1,000 yards in four of the past six seasons. The other half of that dynamic duo seems to-be-decided. But the Cowboys look set on finding it, one way or another.

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