IRVING — It took Gavin Escobar all season before he did anything as a rookie to leave a mark. In Week 17, the backup tight end finally showed fans what the Cowboys saw in him to take him 47th overall.Escobar’s 17-yard touchdown in the season finale against the Eagles was one of the team’s most memorable scores of 2013 as he flipped over safety Nate Allen and helicoptered across the goal line. “You know I don’t even think a lot of people knew my name before that touchdown, really,” Escobar said. “We had a little passing league out here with high schoolers [last week]. One kid came up and said, ‘Hey, I saw your first touchdown against the Eagles.’ It was my second touchdown, but it was the only one he ever saw.“It was good. It was a great play. Unfortunately, we lost the game.”Escobar’s rookie season can be summed up in seconds: The Cowboys were second-guessed for using a second-round pick on a backup tight end.Escobar’s blocking, or lack thereof, kept him off the field. Escobar played only 207 plays, or 20.2 percent of the team’s snaps, and he made only nine catches for 134 yards and two touchdowns.The team’s other tight end not named Jason Witten, James Hanna, played 315 snaps.Coach Jason Garrett spent all season repeating the same answer to questions about Escobar: He has to get bigger and stronger.Escobar weighs about the same, but the former San Diego State standout’s strength has improved. As an example, his single-leg squats on the Smith Machine have gone from 245 pounds to 295 pounds.“He’s had a really good off-season,” Garrett said. “He’s worked really hard. He’s put on a little bit of weight, and he just looks like he’s stronger, a more mature guy. That happens when you come into an NFL program, and it’s what you do each and every day throughout the year. “… Escobar has really embraced the opportunity, and I think it’s benefiting him. He’s getting stronger, a tick more explosive on the field, both as a route runner and also when he’s blocking. So that’s certainly going to help him, but he has a long way to go in that area.”New tight ends coach Mike Pope has his tight ends working on a 350-pound, one-man blocking sled that simulates one-on-one blocking against defensive ends. The tight ends have nicknamed the sled some not-so-nice names.“It’s not fun,” Escobar said.The Cowboys expect more from Escobar this season, with plans to use more two tight-end formations. Of their 1,025 snaps last season, 175 came with two tight ends on the field and 46 with three tight ends.They had 45 completions with multiple tight ends on the field.“Obviously, I think Gavin’s role will expand in the two tight end set,” said Witten, a nine-time Pro Bowler. “Around the league, the last four or five years, that’s a trend that we’ve seen that creates mismatches. … The more he can do, the more it’s going to open up for our offense.”While Escobar is a long way from becoming a starter, the Cowboys drafted him as the heir apparent to Witten. Witten, 32, is entering his 12th season.“You have to create a space for yourself that’s somewhat irreplaceable,” Pope said. “That’s the direction we’re going with all three of these guys. We’ll continue to grow them and grow them and extend one guy’s career as long as we can and bring the other two up. “There will be a day somewhere down the road, maybe not in my lifetime, but there will be a day when there is no Jason Witten with the Cowboys. Somebody has to go in and play that spot. It’ll be sad day obviously, and it’s not for quite a while into the future, but these guys have to look to being Jason Witten somewhere down the road. Somebody has to be that person.”2013 Draft ClassThe Cowboys drafted seven players last season. All remain on the roster: Travis Frederick, C, Wisconsin, first round, 16 starts: He already ranks as one of the best at his position in the NFL. Gavin Escobar, TE, San Diego State, second round, 1 start: He had nine catches for 134 yards and two touchdowns, but his blocking must improve. Terrance Williams, WR, Baylor, third round, 8 starts: After catching 44 passes for 736 yards and five touchdowns last season, he has taken over the starting job opposite Dez Bryant. J.J. Wilcox, SS, Georgia Southern, third round, 5 starts: The Cowboys are counting on him winning the starting SS job. B.W. Webb, CB, Willam & Mary, fourth round, no starts: He appeared in 15 games but faces a camp battle to remain on the roster. Joseph Randle, RB, Oklahoma State, fifth round, 2 starts: The Cowboys expect more from him this season after he had 54 carries for 164 yards and two TDs as a rookie. DeVonte Holloman, LB, South Carolina, sixth round, 2 starts: He has shown versatility, making him a valuable backup.
Charean Williams 817-390-7760 Twitter: @NFLCharean