Rico Gathers is the kind of player who gets coaches fired.
In the coaching fraternity they call players like Gathers “coach killers.”
Here’s why: At 6-foot-6 and 285 pounds, his tantalizing talent allows him to make some spectacular plays - the kind that could show up regularly on SportsCenter -- like the one he made in the fourth quarter of the Cowboys’ 21-13 preseason loss to Cincinnati.
Gathers leaped over an undrafted free agent linebacker’s back to snatch a pass and turn a likely interception into a 25-yard catch-and-run.
That play sent his legion of fans into a frenzy as they spent a chunk of Sunday using social media to implore the Cowboys to make Gathers an integral part of the offense.
For every great play Gathers makes there are several others that leave the coaching staff and front office shaking its collective head.
Make a bad play at the wrong time and it can cost a coach his job, hence the term, “coach killer.”
Frankly, Gathers will be lucky to make the team.
Right now, he’s fourth on the depth chart behind three players who have nine combined NFL receptions.
Geoff Swaim and Blake Jarwin are undrafted free agents and Dalton Schultz was taken in the fourth round of April’s draft.
It speaks volumes that Gathers can’t move up the depth chart.
“At a point - I'm not so sure that we're at that point - if he can be consistent on a personal basis then I'll give him the time he needs to make those kinds of plays," Jones said of Gathers’ fourth-quarter catch. "We talk about red-zone plays and being a weapon in the red-zone, he's certainly that.
"He's making those (great catches) because of his obvious talent and physical advantage, size, leaping-ability, strength, hands, all that. He blocks well when he's blocking the right man.”
That’s a problem in a sport where consistency reigns.
He still makes too many mistakes recognizing defensive fronts, which means he doesn’t always block the right person.
Coaches crave consistency more than anything else. It’s not how many great plays a dude makes, it’s how many bad plays he avoids.
“He's got enough there,” said Jones, “but the angst comes when you're sitting there looking at the guy that's not on the roster because you kept him on the roster."
Gathers can only blame himself for the ambiguity regarding his future, considering Jason Witten’s surprise retirement in April provided real opportunity.
Understand, the Cowboys have wanted him to succeed. It’s why they paid him $449,000 last year when practice-squad players usually earn about $120,000.
Gathers played college basketball, not football, at Baylor. He hadn’t played organized football since the eighth grade and the learning curve has been difficult for Gathers to overcome.
More than once Garrett has said, “We could practice five times a day and that it still wouldn’t be enough for Rico.”
Through two preseason games, Gathers has played 35 snaps. Blake Jarwin leads the tight ends with 68 snaps, followed by Schultz (64) and Swaim (47).
Gathers’ supporters scream that he needs to be given more of an opportunity.
You’re not given an opportunity; you earn an opportunity. Then you take advantage of it.
Antwaun Woods started camp fourth on the depth chart. Now, he’s starting at defensive tackle.
Jihard Ward and Datone Jones began camp as the starting defensive tackle with David Irving suspended and Maliek Collins recovering from a foot surgery .
Well, Daniel Ross started the second preseason game.
Anthony Brown surpassed Jourdan Lewis as the slot cornerback during the offseason. Kavon Frazier took playing time from Byron Jones last year.
Rod Smith passed Darren McFadden and Alfred Morris last season during camp.
Opportunity exists for those who take advantage of it.
“Really right now I'm just focusing on growing in the one area that a lot of people question and that's my blocking,” Gathers said recently. “As long as I'm able to showcase that I can do that significantly well I think I'll be straight.”
The reality is Gathers’ thought too highly of himself last year, and he didn’t work hard enough to improve because he thought he had arrived.
Gathers is working harder now, and he has two more games to show Jones and the coaching staff that he’s player who can help win games not lose them.