Player Profile: Geoff Swaim Embraces New Role in Revamped Tight End Corps
During one offseason, Geoff Swaim has vaulted from third-string tight end to first-team leader of a young, revamped depth chart. The sudden retirements earlier this offseason of both Jason Witten and James Hanna are not the only changes for Swaim. He also is working with a new position coach, Doug Nussmeier.
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That’s a lot of change, but Swaim has decided to approach those offseason developments with a positive attitude. By doing so, he can embrace this chance to have a bigger role in the Cowboys’ offense.
“Change can be difficult, change can be exciting,” says Swaim. “It’s really how you look at it. I choose to look at it as an opportunity. So, for me, I’m trying to take advantage of it. The scheme and all that stuff is an in-house thing, but the direction is exciting, for sure.”
Through his first three seasons as the backup to Witten and Hanna, Swaim played in 28 games with 9 starts. In his career, he has 9 receptions for 94 yards.
That’s 9 more catches and 94 more yards than the rest of the tight ends on the Cowboys’ current roster, combined. Third-year player Rico Gathers and second-year player Blake Jarwin have zero catches in the regular season, and rookie 4th-round pick Dalton Schultz has yet to suit-up in an NFL game.
“We’re a lot younger than we’ve been in the past. To me, it’s something that has to evolve. It has to be an organic evolution of our offense, it really does. We have to see what we’re going to make of it and how we’re going to run it. And then execute the plays when they’re called.”
When the offseason began, Swaim did not expect that he would suddenly be thrust into the starting lineup and become the de-facto leader of the young tight end corps. But Hanna announced his retirement because of a degenerative knee condition, and then Jason Witten stunned Cowboys Nation when he announced he would retire in order to begin a broadcasting career as the Monday Night Football analyst.
Swaim was just as surprised as his teammates to learn of Witten’s decision to hang up his helmet after 15 seasons with the Cowboys.
“I found out in the locker room, just guys talking about it,” recalls Swaim. “I talked to him during his ceremony and obviously wished him luck and thanked him for everything he’s done for me and my wife. I thanked him for his example and his leadership.
“You have to adjust and move on. That’s how everyone approached, it. You go, ‘Wow! Okay, well, here’s what in front of us now.’ It doesn’t do me any good to look in the past or think, ‘Oh no, what’s going on?’ Truthfully, what I really focus on, is what’s in front of me.”
Swaim says that even though Witten is no longer in the meetings or taking part in practices, Witten is still a presence in the film room because so many of the plays that are shown by the coaching staff include #82 running routes or executing blocks.
“It’s hard to watch film and not have Wit in the film. I don’t know what tape you can bring up of the Cowboys in any sort of relevant way that Wit is not on the field. I still look at his plays as a model in a lot of ways for what I want to do in terms of his technique and his finish on plays. His nuances and the way he played the game as a route-runner really stick out to me. It’s real evident when you watch tape: it’s always him, it’s always him. And it’s that way for a reason.
“Wit was chasing excellence in everything he did. That’s real apparent to me. He knew that if he chased excellence, he would be a leader by example. That was the result of his work. It wasn’t the other way around. That’s the important thing to know about him. He worked knowing that his work spoke for itself.”
Swaim is now taking advantage of this change as a way to not only increase his playing time, but also to positively influence the young tight ends that are behind him on the depth chart.
“I’ve got to make sure I’m on-it with my work ethic and my approach is the right approach,” he concedes. “I’m in the film room watching film. On the field, I’m prepared the right way. The way the tight ends are, we’re figuring things out together. There’s no need for me to be in there yelling at someone who is a year younger than me. That doesn’t make sense. That wouldn’t be right. So, for us, it’s working together and, for me, being a leader by example.”
Swaim is entering the final year of the original 4-year rookie contract he signed with the Cowboys as the team’s 7thround draft pick in 2015. If he has a productive season, he could set himself up for a lucrative offer in free agency following the coming 2018 season. That makes this a very important year for him.
“Yeah, it’s self-evidently a very big year,” Swaim admits. “Everyone says, ‘Oh, contract year!’ But it’s really just a chance for me to see what I can make of myself. I really don’t look too far ahead in the future. And I mean that sincerely. I’m a pretty simple dude. I try to think, ‘What can I do now? What’s relevant right now?’ Everything else doesn’t matter and will take care of itself.”
Along with all the personnel changes in the tight ends room, there’s also a new position coach. Swaim has taken the same positive approach to changes in the coaching staff. He’s making the most of working with new tight ends coach Doug Nussmeier, a former quarterback who played five seasons in the NFL.
“I’ve enjoyed learning a different point of view,” Swaim says of Nussmeier. “He’s a guy who has played quarterback which is literally a different vantage point on the football field. He can tell us about what a quarterback sees, what a quarterback likes to see from a tight end, what tricks a quarterback, what is bad. And Coach’s energy and his willingness to stay late and talk about stuff that we need to figure out. For him, it’s not about being right, it’s about getting it right and that’s been huge for us.”
As a tight end, Swaim has a huge role not only in the receiving game, but also in run blocking and pass protection. So, in addition to Nussmeier, Swaim is also adapting to new offensive line coach Paul Alexander and new wide receiver coach Sanjay Lal.
“For me, I’ve tried to be open-minded and embrace a new way of looking at it because it’s all helpful. If you want to sit in a rut, that can limit your growth as a player. It can limit the growth of a team. I look at the changes as a way of gaining more knowledge about how to do a job. It’s a collective effort to do that.
“But, yes, at tight end we’re working closely with the o-line and with the receivers and running backs and fullbacks. That’s the unique part of playing tight end, there are a lot of facets to the position in both the passing and running games. You’re kind of the handyman. That’s the challenge, and that’s what is fun about it. If you’re good, you can really learn the whole offense.
“I have a long way to go and there is so much I need to cleanup technique-wise in my game, that’s pretty obvious when you watch film. But the challenge is seeing the entirety of the offense and learning to work with different types of players, quarterbacks and receivers and running backs and the offensive linemen and fullback. It’s learning to manage the different situations you’re put in.
“My approach has always been the same: being the best I can be on every play. If that means I catch the ball more, it does. If it doesn’t, and it means I block more, I’m willing to do it.”