Mandatory Credit: Photo by Brandon Wade/AP/Shutterstock (13578376fn) Dallas Cowboys tight end Dalton Schultz (86) is seen during the first half of an NFL football game against the Chicago Bears, in Arlington, Texas. Dallas won 49-29 Bears Cowboys Football, Arlington, United States – 30 Oct 2022
From a position of concern in 2021, tight end has become a strength less than halfway through the Cowboys’ 2022 season.
Putting up dependable showings through eight weeks this season, the tight ends have averaged over 45 yards per game, including five games that were 56 yards or better, in an offense that has struggled at times to move the ball.
“That is what we talk about in our room, being consistent as the season goes on,” Cowboys tight end coach Lunda Wells said. “We are in a good spot in the room. … We just want to continue to trend in the right direction. So that then in December when it’s championship football that we got guys that will go out and play, and not just play to play but play to win and play up to the standard that we need them to play to get where we want to go to as a team.”
Heading into the season, Dallas had two TEs they were confident about and not much else. They needed to find at least one more for the active roster and one for the practice squad.
With starting tight end Dalton Schultz, who is playing on the one-year franchise tag this season, blocker and special teams ace Sean McKeon and seldom used Jeremy Sprinkle in the fold for 2022, the Cowboys added Wisconsin’s Jake Ferguson early on Day Three of the NFL draft.
Anyone else added would be a training camp body with a chance to possibly play themselves onto the practice squad.
The Cowboys signed undrafted free-agent Peyton Hendershot and free agent Ian Bunting and were set for camp with the six.
Hendershot made such an impression during the preseason; he beat out Bunting and bumped Sprinkle from the roster. So far, that looks like the right decision.
“That tight end group has created some depth that is really good for us,” Cowboys offensive coordinator Kellen Moore said. “So, we like utilizing all these different personnel groups. That is our advantage.”
The Cowboys came into this season using formations that utilized one or two tight ends on over 90-percent of the snaps in 2021 – using 11-personal (one running back, one tight end) on 67-percent of snaps and 12-personnel (one running back, two tight ends) the other 24-percent.
Nearly at the halfway point in 2022, the Cowboys have added the heavy dose of 13-personnel (one running back, three tight ends) to the mix, because of the confidence the coaches have in the young tight ends on the roster.
“I have always envisioned the four guys that are on the active roster being prepared to play,” Wells said. “So, if it is three tight ends, four tight ends … I have always envisioned having everybody in that room ready to play. And play up to the standards of the Dallas Cowboys.”
“So, for me on how many are we going to play, as a position coach I don’t really get into it. It’s just, ‘Hey Kellen, what do you want to go with this week? What do we feel is best personnel wise.’ Then having those guys in a position … to go out and execute on a high level for us to win.”
Now eight weeks into the season and all four have contributed to the Cowboys’ 6-2 start.
Led by the veteran Schultz, who has 20 catches for 203 yards in six starts, all four have at least one catch this season. Both Hendershot (85 yards, one touchdown) and Ferguson (68 yards, two touchdowns) have nine catches, while McKeon has one catch for 10 yards.
All four played significant roles in Sunday’s win over Chicago. Schultz played just over 54-percent of the offensive snaps, while Ferguson (32 offense, seven special teams snaps), Hendershot (21 offense, 14 special teams snaps) and McKeon (14 offense, 10 special teams snaps) all saw time on the field.
Schultz, who has battled through a knee injury on the field and lack of long-term contract off it, led the way for the offense in the passing game with six catches for 74 yards.
“The future is dependent on what you do with this moment, and (Schultz) has done an outstanding job by staying focused in the moment,” Wells said. “Being a team guy, understanding that just take care of this moment and the future, by you taking care of this moment, will take care of itself. He has done an unbelievable job.”
Hendershot, who certainly looks part of the future, made two catches for 15 yards, with both grabs moving the chains early in the first half. Ferguson had just the one catch, but it was a one-yard touchdown to push the Cowboys lead to 28-7 in the second quarter.
The Cowboys head to Green Bay after the bye week with four mostly healthy tight ends, and enough production to give opponents worry over the final nine games of the season.