A Student Once More

IRVING, Tex. - Gavin Escobar might have left college after his junior season when he made himself eligible for the NFL Draft last month, but he knows his education is far from over.

The tight end from San Diego State probably isn't going to be a candidate for any top rookie awards this year. That's not to suggest he doesn't have the talent — Escobar was one of the nation's top collegiate receiving tight ends last season — but barring an injury to star tight end Jason Witten, Escobar knows he will begin his professional career as a complementary piece in the puzzle that is the Dallas offense.

That the Cowboys chose Escobar when they did was a surprise to many. After all, the team has several needs, and has one of the best tight ends in the entire league in veteran Jason Witten, who broke the all-time record for receptions in a single season by a tight end last season when he hauled in 110 passes (in a season that started with major medical questions surrounding Witten, who suffered a lacerated spleen in the preseason).

Escobar said that while Friday's first practice amounted to a basic introduction for all of the new Cowboys, more than a traditional practice, he already can feel the sense of urgency among the 45 players — some of whom are rookies, the others with a single year of NFL experience — in attendance at the team's mini-camp.

"Everyone's competing for a job," he said. "It's real competitive. It's competitive in college, but it's another step — another challenge."

The 6-foot-6-inch, 254-pound Escobar is used to being his team's top target in the passing game; he was the Aztecs' leader last season in catches, receiving yards and touchdown receptions. But after his first NFL practice Friday, Escobar was quick to point out that he harbors no illusions about being the team's top tight end in 2013 … or in the immediate future after his rookie season.

"Not so much. You know, I'm going to play my role and do it as best I can. So whatever the coaches have planned for me, that's what ... I'm going to do."

Several Dallas veterans, including wide receivers Dez Bryant and Cole Beasley and defensive linemen Jay Ratliff and Jason Hatcher, were among the players at the team's headquarters in Valley Ranch Friday, some working out and some sneaking an initial peek at the group of young players hoping to join them on the roster in 2013. Witten was in the building, but Escobar said he had not yet had a chance to meet his new teammate and presumed mentor.

"No, I actually walked right by him today, but I was running … to a meeting, so I didn't get a chance to say, ‘What's up?' or anything," Escobar said. "I'm expecting to learn a lot from him. He's a … 11-year veteran? [The 2013 season actually will be Witten's 11th in the NFL, all of which he has spent with the Cowboys.] He's one of the best tight ends in the game, so I'm really excited to pick his brain and learn from him."

Escobar was not a player at a position of need for the Cowboys, but it's easy to see why they liked him enough to choose him in the second round of the draft. Like Witten and the team's other tight end, one-year veteran James Hanna, Escobar is a big, fluid runner with excellent receiving skills and a quiet, understated personality. Escobar is not yet much of a blocker, if only because it wasn't asked of him very often at San Diego State, but he said Friday he hopes to quickly shed the image that he is a one-dimensional target who can't help in pass protection and in opening lanes for the Dallas running backs.

While he is honing his blocking skills, however, Escobar gives Dallas head coach Jason Garrett and his offensive staff a trio of big targets for the passing game that many other teams around the NFL would envy.

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