Dallas Cowboys

Rico Gathers making progress, possible Witten successor

Dallas Cowboys tight end Jason Witten is in the final year of his contract. The Cowboys might consider a contract extension for him if wants to continue his career beyond next season.

But there is no question the Cowboys are in the market for his successor at tight end.

A number of mock drafts have pegged Alabama’s O.J. Howard to the Cowboys.

Of course, that would result in the Cowboys using a relatively high pick on a tight end when they have bigger immediate needs elsewhere.

One in-house option as a possible future successor to Witten is Rico Gathers, a former basketball star at Baylor who the Cowboys took as a sixth-round development prospect last year.

He spent the entire season on the practice squad.

“Rico has made a lot of progress,” coach Jason Garrett said. “We had our eyes wide open when we drafted him. We took him in the sixth round. We understood he was going to be developmental player. He hadn’t played football since junior high. He has lot of athletic ability. There a lot of things to like about him. He made a lot of progress.”

The 6-foot-6, 273-pound Gathers is a tremendous athlete who the Cowboys hope can develop into a productive player in the mold Antonio Gates and Jimmy Graham, both former college basketball players who become NFL stars.

The thing the Cowboys were impressed with most about Gathers last year was his attitude.

“He did a lot of stuff on his own to try to get better,” Garrett said. “He took as many reps as anybody did on our team in practice throughout the year. And you saw him make a lot of strides. I think he really loves football. He works hard at it. You see the steps he’s made. He still has a long way to go. We all understand that. But we are certainly optimistic about his ability and the approach he is taking.”

Garrett said the next step for Gathers is to start doing things in football instinctively and grow from being a basketball player learning football.

But they believe in his progress and his development because he has the right attitude and is a willing learner.

One example was him filling in at tackle in practice last year because of injuries in an effort become a better run blocker.

“The most impressive thing was his willingness to dive in there,” Garrett said. “He played offensive tackle hundreds of snaps this year. We had guys hurt. He put a white shirt on and went there and played tackle. He embraced that. How good was he playing tackle? Probably not as good as he needed to be. But he saw there was an opportunity to learn how to block. To get better at my profession. To get better at my run blocking. So he has embraced every opportunity. We really see the progress that he has made.”

Clarence Hill: 817-390-7760, @clarencehilljr

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