The Dallas Cowboys recently lost receiver Laurent Robinson via free agency. The journeyman receiver signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars last week after his breakout year with the Cowboys in 2011. Robinson led the Cowboys with 11 touchdown receptions and played like a Pro Bowler for most of the season while filling in for injured Dallas receivers Miles Austin and Dez Bryant. Losing Robinson will hurt, but Cowboys tight end John Phillips is capable of making everyone forget about the one-year wonder in Dallas.
Phillips didn’t play much as a rookie in 2009, but was on pace to unseat Martellus Bennett as the No. 2 tight end on the depth chart until he tore his ACL during the 2010 preseason. After rehabbing, Phillips returned for his third season in 2011, catching 15 passes for 101 yards and a touchdown as Dallas’ third-string tight end.
Phillips is more talented and has a significantly better work ethic than Bennett, but Dallas played Bennett more in 2011 as an evaluation for his upcoming free agency. Naturally, Bennett choked and left Dallas via free agency and signed with the Cowboys’ division rivals. The New York Giants are now responsible for his pathetic performance on the field and it’s Phillips’s turn to shine.
Phillips’s nickname should be “Jason Witten, Jr.” This guy is a phenomenal talent with great hands and his work ethic is off the charts. In addition, he’s tough as nails and never falls backwards while being tackled. Sound familiar?
The Cowboys now have two tight ends that can make big plays in the passing game and block well, too. In obvious passing situations, look for the Cowboys to use two-tight end sets unless Dallas lands a big-name receiver in free agency. Phillips and Witten are just as good as two more receivers on the field for Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo and the recent signing of fullback Lawrence Vickers ensures the Cowboys’ running game will benefit as well.
Vickers fills the hole left by Tony Fiammetta, who was the Cowboys’ most important offensive player in 2011. Vickers’ presence means the Cowboys won’t be forced to use single-back formations on clear-cut running downs. This also means the Cowboys’ two-tight end sets will be even more effective, especially with the exceptional hands of Witten and Phillips.
The Cowboys have all the pieces in place to put up record numbers on offense this year. Dallas brought in help on the offensive line by signing Nate Livings and Mackenzy Bernadeau in free agency, so Romo is protected, he has solid receivers to throw to and a dynamite running back in DeMarco Murray who will break team records once he’s healthy in 2012 and running behind Vickers. Cowboys fans will soon be asking, “Who was that guy with the weird name that was here for a few games?”