The Cowboys saw tight ends Jason Witten and James Hanna retire this offseason. It leaves a hole at the position even with their selection of Dalton Schultz in the fourth round.
Rico Gathers, who did not play a regular-season game in his first two seasons, acknowledges the opportunity.
He spent his rookie season on the practice squad after playing college basketball, and a concussion kept Gathers on injured reserve last season.
“The biggest thing for me this year is just making it to the regular season,” Gathers said. “I have to make sure I’m healthy and make sure I’m able to be on somebody’s 53-man roster.”
The Cowboys took a flyer on Gathers in 2016, using a sixth-round pick on him. He showed signs of development during the 2017 preseason by catching seven passes for 106 yards and two touchdowns in the first two preseason games.
But Gathers took a helmet-to-helmet hit from defensive back Kavon Frazier during an August 15 practice, and the concussion ended Gathers’ season before it began.
He was cleared from concussion protocol before Week 7, but the Cowboys elected not to use one of their short-term injured reserve designations on Gathers.
“They finally gave me the clear to start back working out normal and going back into the meetings and stuff,” Gathers said. “For the most part, I was excited after getting cleared, but the people above had bigger expectations for me rather than me coming in and practicing and getting back on the field.
“Really they didn’t tell me anything. But I could just tell by the drift of the season and the drift of the coaching staff that I probably wasn’t going to play last year anyway. I just look forward to getting back on the field this year.”
Gathers is confident he could have helped last season. He’s more confident he will help this season with Witten and Hanna gone. He is competing with Geoff Swaim, Blake Jarwin, Schultz and undrafted rookie David Wells likely for three roster spots.
Gathers has worked hard on his blocking, seeking to become an all-around tight end.
“It was agonizing [not playing last season], because I felt like I had finally got into a rhythm of what I wanted to do, and I think they saw that,” Gathers said. “It was tough to deal with, especially because in some of the games I felt like we needed a scoring punch and I felt like that was what I brought to the table. But playing for the Cowboys is bigger than being able to score touchdowns. You have to block and everything else.”