Cowboys will have a new look on offense, too

Posted Friday, Aug. 02, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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lebreton My training camp colleagues chided me about today’s topic not being very “sexy.”

But I disagree.

This column is all about touchdowns and Cowboys subterfuge, and what could possibly be more steamy than that?

We’re talking about Bill Callahan shouting instructions to Wade Wilson, who will then whisper them in code to Tony Romo.

Hot, huh?

It’s the new Dallas Cowboys offense, which is not to be confused with the much-chronicled new Cowboys defense, otherwise known as the “old” 4-3.

We’ve heard plenty about the new/old defense. The hiring of Monte Kiffin and Rod Marinelli, who have 137 years on this earth between them, has signaled the Cowboys’ return to the 4-3 defense. Everything old, it seems, is new again.

Shuffled to a more dimly lit stage in this training camp, however, has been the “new” offense.

“New” in the sense that line coach Callahan is also the new offensive coordinator and will be overseeing the play-calling from the coaches booth. “New” also because the Cowboys have positioned themselves to attempt their best impression of the New England Patriots.

When the Cowboys used a second-round draft pick to select a tight end, Gavin Escobar of San Diego State, they underscored head coach Jason Garrett’s commitment to the “12 personnel” (one running back, two tight ends) offense. They’ve used it before — 195 snaps with the 12 personnel in 2012 and 320 in 2011.

But whereas Martellus Bennett was the second tight end in the scheme two seasons ago, and John Phillips brought limited skills to the package in 2012, Garrett seems to perk up when he talks about the talents and options that Escobar could bring to the offense.

How perked up? Perky enough that the Cowboys released last year’s starting fullback, Lawrence Vickers.

The intent behind the 12 personnel offense is to create mismatches with the defense. The Patriots employed the two-tight end set successfully by having both Rob Gronkowski — 6-foot-6 and 265 pounds — and now-troubled Aaron Hernandez, who brought wide receiver skills to the package.

As Garrett explained this week, “Really the big question with 12 is how the defense is going to play you. If they’re going to play you in the nickel, now your run opportunities get a little bit better. If they play their standard defense, maybe you have more ways to throw the football.”

Innocently put, but potentially game-changing from the Cowboys’ viewpoint.

Escobar is 6-6 and 249. Veteran tight end Jason Witten, on the other hand, caught a record 110 passes last season.

If the defense brings in another defensive back to cover Escobar, the Cowboys should find it easier to run the ball with DeMarco Murray or rookie Joseph Randle. If a team chooses to stay in its standard defense, it will be inviting Witten and Escobar to catch a lot of passes.

Further deception in the 12 personnel scheme is possible, as evidenced by the Cowboys using it in practice with their hurry-up offense. Which means defenses won’t be able to substitute.

Mismatches can result in touchdowns, especially in the red zone. And if any team needs a new gimmick in the red zone, it’s the Cowboys.

“Depending on who your guys are,” Garrett said, “you want to be able to play to your personnel’s strengths.”

Without a fullback, New England has utilized either an extra offensive lineman or a third tight end in the backfield on short yardage situations.

With the two tight ends already in the game, quarterbacks coach Wilson can use the headset to quickly tell Romo which play to call. Consider it another Romo-friendly move.

What could possibly go wrong?

This was Garrett’s idea, I was told. He’s been wanting to expand on utilizing the 12 personnel, and drafting Escobar and two other offensive players in the first three rounds gave Garrett the impetus to do it.

Not all the sexy news in this camp, in other words, has been about Monte Kiffin.

Gil LeBreton, 817-390-7697 Twitter: @gilebreton

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