Rico Gathers is entering his third season in the NFL, and the former Baylor basketball standout is determined to make a 53-man roster in 2018.
The Dallas Cowboys used a 2016 sixth-round pick on Gathers, who they felt could develop into a tight end. But it hasn’t been a seamless transition.
Gathers spent his rookie season on the practice squad and was sidelined all of last season with a concussion he sustained during a training camp practice.
But Gathers hasn’t lost hope of playing in the NFL.
"The biggest thing for me this year is just making it to the regular season," Gathers said on Wednesday from the Cowboys’ organized team activities (OTAs).
"I have to make sure I'm healthy and make sure I'm able to be on somebody's 53-man roster."
Gathers would like it to be the Cowboys. With Jason Witten and James Hanna going into retirement this offseason, there should be opportunities for Gathers to showcase his skills.
But the question remains how much missing a season stunted his growth.
Gathers, 24, flashed potential early on in the preseason, catching touchdowns in each of the first two games. But a collision with safety Kavon Frazier left him concussed.
Gathers said he cleared concussion protocol before Week 7 last season, but the Cowboys opted to keep him on injured reserve.
"Really they didn't tell me anything,” Gathers said. “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 described it as an “agonizing” season. He believes he could’ve helped the team, providing a red zone threat with his 6-foot-6, 285-pound frame.
"I felt like we needed a scoring punch. I felt like that’s what I brought to the table,” Gathers said. “But playing for the Cowboys is bigger than just being able to score touchdowns. You’ve got to be able to block and everything else."
Gathers feels his blocking and technique have improved, and is hungry to get back on the football field.
Asked if the time away made him think about pursuing basketball again, Gathers replied: "No."