When the Dallas Cowboys drafted tight end Gavin Escobar in the second round of the NFL draft this past May, one would not have been out of line if they labeled it a head scratching pick. For one, the Cowboys have perennial All-Pro and future Hall of Famer Jason Witten as their starting tight end, and last year chose a tight end in the draft as well, selecting James Hanna in the sixth round. But the moves were all an attempt to stock pile tight ends — blocking tight end Dante Rosario was signed at the beginning of June — in order to allow the Cowboys to run more two tight end offensive sets in 2013.
Naturally, this left fullback Lawrence Vickers in a tough situation, and the team, as expected, released the 30 year old on Friday. While the move does make sense from a schematic standpoint as far as how the offense will be run this upcoming season, the move is a costly one, and the wrong one at that.
The Cowboys running game last year was putrid to say the least, dropping 13 spots all the way to 31st in the league, after finishing with the 18th best rushing attack in 2011. Their 3.6 yards per rushing attempt last year was also second last in the league, and second year back DeMarco Murray — despite missing 6 games — still finished first on the team in rushing yards, with 663. Given these statistics and just by watching them play last year, it’s very hard to pin the struggles on Vickers, which seems to be what the front office thought by releasing him.
Murray missed most of the season, and the offensive line was as bad as it has been in years. In Murray’s rookie year, when he ran for 897 yards in 13 games averaging 5.5 yards per carry, he ran behind fullback Tony Fiammetta, who did a pretty solid job providing running lanes for the Cowboys young workhorse.
Last season, the combo of Murray and Vickers rarely saw the field together, so we never really got the opportunity to see how well a healthy Murray could run behind the blocks of Vickers.
It would have been nice to see how a full season of both being healthy would have worked out, but the Cowboys put an end to that vision on Friday. They will now run more two tight end sets and probably keep a fourth tight end on the roster — most likely Rosario — to help with the run blocking. But while Witten is a decent blocking tight end, he does at times have too high of a pad level and gets driven into the backfield. And Escobar, for as good as a receiving prospect as he is, isn’t the greatest run blocker, something that was mentioned in pre-draft discussions.
Vickers was an alternate on the AFC pro bowl squad in 2008 as a member of the Cleveland Browns, and in a league where fullbacks are becoming extinct; players of that position with the ability and credentials of Vickers are hard to come by.
It is a move that signals a philosophical change of sorts with the Cowboys offense, eliminating a traditional position and emphasizing their potential tight end versatility.
It was an expected move, especially with Vickers recovering from back surgery and given the offense’s new direction.
But for a team that struggled mightily running the ball last season, and didn’t get an opportunity to showcase their fullback-running back combination for an entire season, it was the wrong move to release Vickers.
Hopefully it is a move that doesn’t come back to hurt this upcoming season.