When the Dallas Cowboys lost receiver Laurent Robinson to the Jacksonville Jaguars via free agency in March, we discussed how backup tight end John Phillips could fill the void left by Robinson. Now that Dallas has concluded its June mini-camp, that possibility is really coming in to focus. However, many naysayers are “hating” on Phillips because they don’t believe he’s an explosive receiver like Robinson. Well, he doesn’t play the same position, but Phillips can fill that void nonetheless.
Even here at RantSports.com, Robinson was often called the Cowboys’ No. 3 receiver during the 2011 season, even though that title is far from accurate. For the majority of his breakout season in Dallas, Robinson was playing a starting receiver role in place of either Miles Austin or Dez Bryant, who were both injured frequently throughout the year.
With Robinson now gone, the Cowboys indeed must find a suitable No. 3 receiver not only for three-receiver sets, but as insurance for when (not if) Austin and/or Bryant get hurt during the year. Often called Jason Witten, Jr., Phillips can fill that void left by Robinson in his own way.
No, Phillips probably won’t be streaking down the seam for a 58-yard touchdown like Robinson did against the Buffalo Bills last season, but he can provide that extra outlet for Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo that made him so successful during the middle portion of 2011. That will come from the emergence of DeMarco Murray, who the Cowboys believe can be a workhorse running back in 2012 following his breakout rookie season.
With Lawrence Vickers now in the fold to lead the way for Murray, Dallas might use more two-tight-end sets with Phillips and Witten to maximize the potential of that powerful running game. With such sets come play-action fakes, which leads to touchdown receptions for tight ends and Phillips has sure hands just like Witten, his mentor, and Romo has acknowledged that.
“He’s a guy you can count on,” Romo said.
Cowboys tight ends coach John Garrett also has nothing but praise for his young breakout candidate.
“He’s just reliable, dependable John Phillips,” Garrett said. “You throw him the ball, he catches it. He blocks the right guy. John can go play other spots, too. He knows the offense. He knows all of the positions. He’s a guy you can really trust.”
The “other spots” Garrett referred to are fullback, as an extra offensive lineman (as mentioned blocking for Murray) and as a slot receiver. Really, with two superb tight ends in Witten and Phillips, Dallas doesn’t have to put all its chips on the new No. 3 receiver to be All-World. Those two guys play plenty of receiver in obvious passing situations anyway, so there’s not so much pressure on these young players who have obviously not stood out to the Cowboys’ coaching staff thus far.
Phillips is easily a breakout candidate considering the success of the New England Patriots’ dynamic tight end duo last season. It’s now possible for teams to utilize such luxuries during critical game situations and the Cowboys are in perfect position to do so in 2012 with Witten and Phillips.