The Dallas Cowboys released veteran tight end David LaFleur on Tuesday, giving former Kentucky All-American James Whalen Jr. a very good opportunity to make the team out of training camp in Oxnard, Calif.
LaFleur had been battling chronic back problems for the last two years. His release leaves the Cowboys with only four tight ends in camp --- veteran Jackie Harris, Mike Lucky, Johnny Huggins and the 6-foot-2, 228-pound Whalen. Dallas plans to carry either three or four on its roster.
In three preseason games, Whalen has caught four passes for 40 yards, which ranks 14th among NFL tight ends. During the spring, he led NFL Europe with 66 receptions (691 yards, 3 TDs) for the Scottish Claymores.
According to DallasCowboys.com writer Nick Eatman: "Whalen is almost closer to being a true receiver than a tight end because of his size. He's not much of a blocker, but arguably has the best hands on the team."
Dallas coach Dave Campo was quoted early in camp as saying, "If we keep six wide receivers, that sixth guy better be better than Whalen."
Whalen was an amazing success story at UK, coming to Lexington as a walk-on from Shasta Junior College in Redding, Calif., in 1997. He arrived that summer with a video tape of highlights for former Wildcat coach Hal Mumme, and was invited to walk-on.
Three years later, as a senior, he broke an NCAA record for receptions (90) by a tight end and finished with 1,019 yards and 10 touchdowns en route to All-America honors.
Whalen was drafted in the fifth round of the 2000 NFL Draft by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.