News: Eatman | Depth, Versatility Highlight Tight End Position

Discussion in 'News Zone' started by Bluefin, Jul 19, 2004.

  1. Bluefin

    Bluefin Well-Known Member

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    Depth, Versatility Highlight Tight End Position

    Entering his second year, Jason Witten should have a bigger role in the offense.

    Nick Eatman Staff Writer
    July 19 2004, 5:13 p.m. (CDT)

    (Editor's Note: This is the sixth of a 10-part series, analyzing the Cowboys position-by-position as they begin final preparations for the July 31 start to training camp. Today will feature the tight end position.)

    IRVING, Texas -- Even before the Cowboys had completed the regular season a year ago, head coach Bill Parcells already had at least one goal in mind for the 2004 campaign:

    Get Jason Witten more involved in the offense.

    The rookie tight end didn't need a full season to show he not only has the tools to become a complete player, blocking and catching, but he just might develop into a legitimate playmaker.

    Now the Cowboys haven't had a difference-maker at tight end since Jay Novacek was snagging Troy Aikman passes in the 1990's. And certainly it's too early to start comparing Witten to Novacek, who needed only seven seasons to rank seventh in club history with 339 career receptions.

    But if Witten did one thing last year, he proved several teams wrong for not drafting him higher than the third round, where the Cowboys grabbed him with the 69th pick.

    After a slow start in the first eight games, catching only eight passes and suffering a broken jaw in the fourth game of the season, Witten came on strong in the second half of the year. He caught 28 passes in the last eight games, finishing with 347 receiving yards and one touchdown.

    But his ability to catch the ball didn't surprise the Cowboys as much as his ability to block. He proved as early as the preseason he could become a valuable resource in the running game, the Cowboys working him out of the backfield at times in an H-back role.

    And now that he's added some bulk to his but 22-year-old frame, he just might turn into a complete enough tight end to challenge five-year veteran Dan Campbell for the starting job.


    But then Campbell, a free-agent acquisition last year, turned into more than just a blocker. He started all 16 games at tight end, catching 20 passes for 195 yards and a touchdown. Campbell, who played four previous seasons with the New York Giants, also proved to be one of the team's vocal leaders in the locker room.

    Like Witten, Campbell played a bigger role in the passing game during the second half of the year, catching 14 of his 20 balls in the last eight games. Both Witten and Campbell should become fixtures in the offense again this year, but how the rest of the tight end position shapes up will come down to competition at training camp.

    The Cowboys drafted Boston College's Sean Ryan in the fifth round (144th overall). The 6-4, 266-pound tight end showed he wasn't just a blocker during his senior season, catching 35 passes for 447 yards and six touchdowns for the Eagles. He ended his four-year career, which included 37 starts, with 75 catches for 950 yards and 12 scores.

    But like every competition for a backup position, it usually comes down to special teams.

    While Ryan, a converted defensive end, did have 19 special teams tackles in three years, he is competing with one of the Cowboys' best special teams players in James Whalen. The fifth-year tight end has endured several roles during his career with the Cowboys, and has played on just about every special team.

    Whalen doesn't punt or kick, but he has held for field goals and extra points, and has been on seemingly every special teams unit, including covering kicks.

    Before last season, Parcells called Whalen a "satellite" player, meaning more of a hybrid player and not a prototypical tight end. Whalen was productive early last year on special teams, but after a nagging hamstring injury kept him out for five games during a six-week stretch in October and November, a healthy Whalen lost his spot on the kicking units, and was inactive for the final five games, including the Wild Card playoff game in Carolina.

    Considered an undersized tight end, Whalen (6-2, 244) can play like a receiver, with arguably the best set of hands on the team. He's a true pass-catcher, who usually racks up several catches in the preseason. If he can couple that with a few tackles on special teams, he'll be tough to let go.

    And let's not forget about Jeff Robinson, the team's deep snapper for punts and place kicks. Robinson is one of the NFL's best snappers, so barring any kind of injury (he missed all of 2002 with a torn ACL), his job is safe. The Cowboys even used him in goal-line situations last year, catching his only two passes of the season (five and three yards) for touchdowns.

    The Cowboys also added rookie Landon Trusty to the roster after the final mini-camp. Trusty (6-7, 270) is a free agent from Division II Central Arkansas and will be the biggest tight end on the training camp roster. He played basketball for his college team, and has some quickness for his size. How quickly he adapts from small college football to the NFL will ultimately seal his fate.

    The Cowboys probably won't keep more than four tight ends, and that does include Robinson. But if players such as Whalen and Ryan show they can help on offense, the Cowboys might be forced to go long here and possibly keep one less wide receiver.

    (Next: Wide Receiver)


    Jason Witten: Is he one of the best young tight ends around? Another year of improvement could move him into the upper echelon.

    Dan Campbell: Superb off-season acquisition last year; proving to be a solid blocker, and any addition he gives to the passing game is a bonus.

    James Whalen: The Cowboys know he's one of their better special teams players. But he'll need to develop a role on offense, despite his limited opportunities.

    Jeff Robinson: He showed he can be more than just a deep snapper. That will be his primary role again, but can help on the goal line.

    Sean Ryan: A fifth-round pick from Boston College, he won't win many footraces. But his toughness and competitiveness will stand out.

    Landon Trusty: This rookie played Division II football in Arkansas, so it won't be an easy transition. But his size could work to his advantage.
  2. EGG

    EGG Well-Known Member

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    I gets the feeling that Coach likes his TEs to block 80% of the time and catch passes 20%,,, so if Whalen can't win an ST position outright he's a gonner. Ryan will be a perfect 3rd TE because he can block(hopefully) and the team really doesn't want the long snapper to constantly fill in for an injured #1 or #2 TE in the double TE sets...

    SALADIN Jumper

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    Landon Trusty size and athleticism is intriguing, seems to have a pretty good head on his shoulders too. He’s a long shot to make the final roster but hopefully he can make it past the first cut in training camp and push for a spot on the practice squad.


    Landon Trusty, University of Central Arkansas
    Finance/4.00 G.P.A.

    Some say that no one is perfect. Well as far as academics are concerned University of Central Arkansas' Landon Trusty is just that. Trusty's outstanding academic accomplishment's alone made him an obvious choice for Top Eight honors, but the standout tight end is also a well rounded athlete and community contributor.

    Trusty returns to the Top Eight banquet for the second time in three seasons. The two-time team captain began the 2003 campaign as a GSC Pre-Season All-GSC selection and a Don Hansen's Football Gazette Pre-Season All-American. Injuries plagued the senior for most of the season, but Trusty did manage to finish fourth on the team in receiving, hauling-in 18 catches for 190 yards (10.6 average) and three touchdowns. Once completely healthy, the two-time All-GSC performer was selected for the Division II Cactus Bowl All-Star game; he made the most of it, catching the eye of several NFL scouts and earning a free-agent contract with the Dallas Cowboys.

    Trusty's success in the classroom is second to none. He ended his tenure at UCA with a perfect 4.00 overall grade point average as a Finance major, a major factor in his selection as one of the 29 NCAA Fall Postgraduate scholarship winners. The $7,500 grant goes to student-athletes who excel academically and athletically and who are in their last year of intercollegiate athletics competition. The Hot Springs, Arkansas native was also named CoSIDA Academic All-American for the second consecutive year and became the first two-time winner of the UCA Male Athlete of the Year. He is a four-time member of the Dean's and President's List and the Athletic Department's 3.0 Club.

    Central Arkansas Head Coach Clint Conque, a huge fan of Trusty, said it was a "privilege and a pleasure to coach him." Conque noted that Trusty is a "quiet leader" who "leads by example." This is most evident in Trusty's on and off-campus endeavors. Trusty was a member of the Gamma Beta Phi Business Society (membership by invitation only), Chi Alpha Christian Fellowship and Fellowship of Christian Athletes. He served in the Read to Succeed Program, which involved mentoring and reading to local elementary students. Trusty also was a Red Ribbon Spokesman, speaking at local schools for Drug and Alcohol Awareness Week and was a youth intern at his Trinity Church.

    Landon Trusty, the much-decorated tight end from the University of Central Arkansas, is one of the newest members of the Dallas Cowboys.

    After being summoned to the Cowboys' mini-camp at the Valley Ranch near Irving, Texas, on Monday, Trusty signed a one-year, free-agent contract for the NFL minimum salary of $240,000, sources indicated. He'll be working with the Cowboys all week and will be one of 80 players who will report to training camp later this summer in California.

    Trusty was involved in team meetings Tuesday night and was not available for immediate comment. UCA coach Clint Conque, who visited with Trusty via phone Tuesday, confirmed the signing.

    "Many of us were mystified and wondering why this day didn't happen in April or May," Conque said.

    Trusty, a 6-foot-7, 280 pounder from Hot Springs Lakeside, who was an academic All-American throughout college as well as one of the top tight ends in NCAA Division II, was not drafted. If he were not picked up by an NFL team, he intended to use one of his remaining two years of basketball eligibility this year with the UCA basketball team.

    "Landon kept working hard and kept in shape and got a call Monday," Conque said. "He worked out with the Cowboys before Bill Parcells and Jerry Jones and they signed him shortly afterwards. When Bill Parcells looks you over and signs you that quickly, that's pretty good."

    Trusty, a converted quarterback, caught 80 passes for more than 1,000 yards and 20 touchdowns during his college career.He was injured most of his senior year.

    "I'm extremely happy for Landon because he's a quality person as well as a good athlete and he was a privilege to coach,' Conque said. "It says a lot when you can maintain a 4.0 average through college and play two sports two of those years. We always thought he had a big upside because of his intelligence and his character as well as his athletic ability. He's got a family now and he's a good family man.

    "It's also a tribute and affirmation to what we are doing here at UCA in that we've now had three players sign pro football contracts the last three years."

    Quarterback Brian Stallworth, who signed two years ago, is still playing in Canada as the No. 2 quarterback with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. Patrick Smith signed with the New York Jets last year as a deep-snapper.

    "A real plus with this is Landon is going to be playing in a tight end friendly system," Conque said.

    Conque said Trusty told him he went through his first skeleton drill Tuesday afternoon and caught a pass.

    "He told me he wasn't sure what the play was called," Conque said. "I told him to now go back and make sure he learns the play."


    While his family is in Walt Disney World this week, Landon Trusty is smack in the middle of fantasyland.

    Landon, the multi-decorated tight end from the University of Central Arkansas, had to pull out of the long-planned Trusty family vacation to Orlando to spend the offseason at the Valley Ranch headquarters of the Dallas Cowboys. And it's hardly a Mickey Mouse situation.

    He signed a free-agent contract a week ago and will spend most of the summer in Dallas before he tries to make the squad at training camp in Oxnard, Calif.

    His head is still spinning.

    "It's just like being in a dream," he said during a phone visit from the Valley Ranch.

    The sudden trip to Dallas is a dream scenario.

    Early last week, Trusty, 6-foot-7, 270, was working in Rand Chappell's basketball camp at UCA, preparing to complete his basketball eligibility. "I had accepted the fact that I would go back to school, finish my degree, play some basketball and get a real job. I was OK with that," said Trusty, who spent last winter preparing himself physically to either be drafted or get a free-agent contract with a pro team.

    Trusty admits he's not very good at checking cell phone messages. During a break in camp with the youngsters, he noticed he had two missed calls. One was from his agent. The other was from the director of scouting for the Cowboys.

    He found out that he was to take the next available flight to Dallas for a tryout during the Cowboys' mini camp last week.

    The next day he worked out for about an hour before various coaches and was signed shortly afterward.

    "I was totally overwhelmed," he said. "I was in a whirlwind. One day, I'm working with peewee basketball players and almost exactly 24 hours later, I'm signing with the Cowboys."

    He said that he was almost "knocked unconscious" when Cowboy owner Jerry Jones and coach Bill Parcells approached him at the same time.

    "Like they really needed to introduce themselves to me," he said with a chuckle. "But here I am and on my left is this multi-millionaire who is a legend in Arkansas and on my right is this awesome Hall of Fame coach. I'm pinching myself. I didn't know what to say.

    "Then, I went to my first team meeting and coach Parcells is talking about team unity. I walked in there and I thought I was in some out-of-body experience. It was like I had walked into an episode of ESPN Classic."

    The Cowboys currently have six tight ends on the roster but one is actually a long-snapper.

    "The tight end plays an important role in this offense," he said. "Now the big thing is to compete for a job and make the team. That's why I'm staying here and going through their offseason. If I went home, I probably wouldn't take as good of care with myself and would have gotten lazy."

    Parcells told him one of his first assignments is to lose 10 pounds, from 270 to 260. "I'll do what he says," he said. "He really commands respect. They say if he likes you, he will take care of you."

    He was supposed to work out in Texas Stadium for the first time Wednesday.

    "I've never been on the field at Texas Stadium," he said. "Just think ... Texas Stadium."

    For a young fellow who grew up in Hot Springs, readily exposed to icon after icon with stars on their helmets, it's what dreams are made of.

    BY David McCollum
    Cabin Columnist

    By Harry King

    LITTLE ROCK - Naturally disappointed when the NFL draft came and went and the free-agent flurry did the same, Landon Trusty never moped.

    The recipient of a prestigious $7,500 NCAA post-graduate scholarship, he was content with books, basketball and his baby girl. A semester away from his finance degree with a plan to add a major in insurance and risk management, he was looking square at the real world until he broke away from a peewee basketball camp long enough to check his cell phone messages.

    He had missed two calls - one from his agent in San Antonio and one with a 972 area code, Dallas. The message was the same, the Cowboys wanted to bring him in for a look-see.

    "I was just floored," he said. "When I got to the airport, there really was a ticket waiting on me. It was either a great joke or really cool."

    Originally, the plan was to keep Trusty around through mini-camp, assuming coach Bill Parcells and others liked what they saw in the 6-foot-7, 270-pound tight end from the University of Central Arkansas.

    Twenty minutes into the public viewing, Parcells turned to owner Jerry Jones with something about a waste of time. Trusty was close enough to hear the remark and figured he was homeward bound. That's when Parcells said to him, "Do you want this thing or not."

    Trusty signed a free-agent contract and will go with the Cowboys to their training camp in Oxnard, Calif. If he sticks - he is one of a half-dozen tight ends although one is a deep snapper - he will get the NFL minimum of $240,000.

    Based on Trusty's invitation to a post-season all-star game for Division II players and the number of teams that worked out Trusty, UCA coach Clint Conque thought his tight end would sign as a free agent. But, nothing happened.

    "I just put it behind me," Trusty said. "We had to go on with our lives."

    All along, Trusty needed to improve his straight-ahead speed, but he got faster and stronger when he gave up on basketball after two years and spent more time on weights. He ran 4.82 for the San Francisco 49ers, has a vertical leap of 33 inches and can bench press around 400 pounds. Plus, he's extremely well grounded with a perfect 4.0 grade point.

    Conque is also convinced that Trusty's reputation was hurt by his lack of senior stats - only 18 catches for 190 yards because of a knee injury that nagged him for three or four games and because the Bears struggled at quarterback. If Zak Clark had been healthy, Trusty probably would have caught 35 for a bunch of yards. For his career, he caught 78, including 20 for touchdowns.

    A quarterback from Hot Springs Lakeside, Trusty was a member of Conque's first recruiting class. Immediately, the coach thought about David Newman, a 6-7, 260-pounder who was a quarterback in high school, but moved to tight end under Conque at Louisiana Tech and is still knocking around the NFL.

    On the UCA depth chart, Trusty was the No. 4 or No. 5 quarterback. On top of that, the starting tight end was injured during the first few days of practice. Eventually, Trusty sat down with Conque and talked about moving to tight end. The coach will always wonder what a redshirt year would have done for Trusty, but that was a luxury that he could not afford.

    When Trusty recently returned to Conway following a Dallas mini-camp, he and Conque went through the Cowboys' playbook. A follower of the Gary Crowton-Tom Coughlin-Parcells lineage, Conque's terminology was the same in many areas.

    Trusty said that when he walked into his first team meeting and Parcells was talking about team unity, he thought he was having an out of body experience. "It was like I had walked into an episode of ESPN Classic," he said. "It was just awesome, surreal, this legendary coach talking about teamwork. I was ready to put on some pads."

    On the field, it has been something of a shock. "In Division II, I'm one of the biggest guys on the field," he said. "Here, I'm in the middle of the pack. But it's still a game of leverage and desire."

    If things don't work out in Oxnard, he will have material for an interesting school paper on what he did during the summer.


    Two-time Gulf South Conference All-Academic

    2002: Verizon Academic All-American; 2002 UCA Male Student-Athlete of the Year, All-South Region

    2001: Verizon All-District Academic All-American, 2nd team All-Gulf South

    2000: GSC West Division Freshman of the Year in basketball.

    70 career receptions, 982 yards, 18 touchdowns
  4. LaTunaNostra

    LaTunaNostra He Made the Difference

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    Nice research, Saladin.

    Kid's already a great story and tho he probably won't make the 53, he sounds like a project worth stashing on the PS.
  5. Jimz31

    Jimz31 The Sarcastic One

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    I really like Campbell. He just impressed me more than the others......he just has "that" attitude about him.
  6. junk

    junk I've got moxie

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    The too often unnoticed part about last year's FA signings. Anderson, Campbell and Singleton are leaders. They might not be flashy, but they contribute the things that need to be done for a team to be successful.
  7. Bluefin

    Bluefin Well-Known Member

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    Nice finds on the Trusty articles, Saladin.

    Could Jason Witten have landed in a better situation than the one in Big D?

    A head coach who dearly loves the position and a solid, blue collar veteran to help teach him the ropes?

    Witten could be good, very good.

    Campbell saw his receptions increase over the second half of the season just like Witten did as defenses focused on taking away the downfield passing game.

    Defenses will always overlook Campbell in the passing game and Dallas may be able to take advantage of that.

    Can he stay healthy?

    Whalen's had his share of injury concerns during his brief career and it may be his downfall with Dallas.

    You have to be on the field to play for Parcells.

    I also don't know if Whalen is enough of a blocker to stick around again this year.

    I loved watching him stick returners in '02, but the odds don't favor a return.

    Can help out as a receiver and blocker, but Parcells doesn't want to risk his deep snapper on the field if he can avoid it.

    Robinson is at his best when looking at things upside down.

    Baby Campbell.

    Appears to offer more as a blocker than Whalen and will need to tap into his defensive background to stick out on coverage teams.

    Not a flashy player, but was second team All-Big East to Miami's Kellen Winslow.

    Nice size and head for learning the game.

    I just can't see a project making the deepest offensive position on the team.

    Will have to clear waivers and join the practice squad to have a future in Big D.

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