The Dallas Cowboys have been lucky enough to have Jason Witten running routes for them for over a decade.
When the Cowboys look to find the replacement for their veteran tight end Witten, they feel that they have that player in former college basketball standout Rico Gathers. Gathers is a huge player that carries talent on the football field that has yet to be unlocked. As a member of the Baylor basketball team, the Cowboys scouts saw talent and athletic ability they hoped they could pull out of him to transfer from the basketball court to the football field.
His progress is that of a ghost, only a few people has seen what he can do and how he has been looking on the practice field. He spent the entire 2016 season on the teams practice squad, while only getting a handful of snaps during the preseason. What the Cowboys and their fans right now are going off of is his athletic ability and what others that have come from a basketball background have done in this league.
Per ESPN.com, Gathers continues to have a legend status with Cowboys fans, despite only playing a total of 16 snaps in preseason and zero in the regular season. He might only have one catch for eight yards, but many talk like he will be the next Jimmy Graham or the other successful basketball player turned tight end in the NFL.
Michael Irvin says Rico Gathers looks like Zeus. Rico: "Hopefully that's what people will be saying, whenever I make plays, 'Zeuuussssss!'"
— Jon Machota (@jonmachota) May 15, 2017
If Jaylon Smith is able to come back and Charles Tapper/Rico Gathers make their expected leap, this could be a legendary draft class.
— Jonah Tuls (@JonahTulsNFL) May 12, 2017
The size of Gathers is what is the most intriguing. At 6-foot-7 and 281 pounds, it is a fun game to play thinking about what he can do on the field against opposing cornerbacks, safety’s, or linebackers. He continues to learn and is making progress, at least from what the Cowboys and those able to watch him practice are telling us.
“When you know what you’re doing and you’ve got your body in football shape, it’s amazing what you can do,” offensive coordinator Scott Linehan said. “That’s the biggest difference from where he was a year ago to now. We expect him to just improve daily and give us that big target in the passing game, and a really big guy that I think will be able to match up good in the run game. He’s what you look for in a tight end when it comes to the physical part. The mental part of it, the years he’s missed playing the game, that’s coming with the reps he’s getting.”
Learning from one of the best in Witten, Gathers has the chance to see what Jason does not only on the field, but in the classroom as well.
“I’d be sitting next to him in our coaching sessions and I see him jotting down notes, OK, I’ve got to jot that down, too,” Gathers said.
With Geoff Swaim and James Hanna getting eased back in the fold, both likely out until training camp, Gathers will get all the second team reps leading up to training camp.
“When we go through our ‘fastball’ periods and I take the second tight end reps, that right there is a confidence builder because they didn’t let me do any of that last year,” Gathers said. “That was just like, ‘OK, watch.’ So now I’m actually getting in there and taking those reps and doing it and not making mistakes and showing that I’m confident in myself and I know what I’m doing. That gives me confidence each and every day. When that period comes right now, hey, I’m the No. 2 tight end, and I want it to stay that way.”
Gathers isn’t looking to just be the Witten replacement, he wants to make a name for himself as an NFL elite athlete!