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Reliable Witten continues doing it all for Cowboys

- Associated Press - Sunday, August 15, 2010

OXNARD, CALIF. (AP) - Jason Witten lined up at tight end with the rest of the starters for the Dallas Cowboys, occasionally sliding into the backfield as an H-back.

When the second team took over, Witten was still out there, forced into it because injuries have turned Dallas' five-man tight end group into just him and DajLeon Farr.

Then practice ended and everyone wound down with a pair of sideline-to-sideline sprints. Witten started near the front of the pack and understandably finished near the back.

Tired as he should've been, he still wasn't finished.

As most of the team headed off the field, Witten and tight ends coach John Garrett worked on blocking techniques with Farr, who joined the team Tuesday.

Farr pretended to be a defensive end coming at Witten to learn how he fired up from his hand on the ground and kept the rusher in front of him. They went through it several times, then switched roles, with Witten turning into the defender.

Finally ready to leave, Witten stopped for interviews. Then he went over to tussle the hair of some youngsters, pose for pictures and sign autographs.

Put the scenes together from Saturday's practice and you have a complete picture of Witten: reliable, durable, team-oriented. He's pretty much everything a coach or quarterback could want, which explains why he keeps getting picked as a team captain, invited to Pro Bowls and nominated for NFL Man of the Year.

Heading into his eighth season, Witten remains hungry for more _ more catches, more touchdowns and, most of all, more postseason success. After finally winning a playoff game last season, reaching the Super Bowl is the logical next step; having the game at Cowboys Stadium makes it even more enticing.

So it's little wonder that Witten saw a bright side to his extra workload while the other tight ends are recuperating.

"Here I am, going back to the basics," he said, smiling. "It's been good, especially in the middle of camp. ... We've all got a lot to improve on. The more work you can get, the more confidence you build."

Witten was back to his usual duties Sunday afternoon. Martellus Bennett returned from an ankle injury and Dallas signed Jason Pociask.

Witten arrived in Dallas as part of Bill Parcells' first draft class, in 2003. He broke his jaw that season and had three plates screwed in to fix it; he missed a single game and hasn't missed any since.

He caught 94 passes for 1,030 yards last season, second-best of his career in both categories. He has the most catches for the most yards among tight ends in team history and is near the tops for all Cowboys receivers. Among active tight ends, only Tony Gonzalez has more catches than Witten; only Gonzalez and Antonio Gates have more yards.

Touchdowns is the one category Witten is lacking. Seven is his career high and he had just two last season. It's probably no coincidence the Cowboys struggled inside the opponent's 20-yard line last season.

Witten spent the past eight months looking to change that. He studied tapes of San Francisco's Vernon Davis (13 TDs last season) and Indianapolis' Dallas Clark (10), watching the moves they made and the formations that sprung them. He also reviewed every play he had in those situations.

"I think that's the only way to address it, to watch the film and try to get better," Witten said. "It's hard to maintain _ you're either getting better or you're getting worse, especially at this level. The bar always gets higher for me. I always am pushing myself."

Witten and Tony Romo have been close friends since long before Romo's rise to the starting quarterback. Their off-field relationship has helped them on the field, too; each seems to know what the other is thinking.

"We take pride in it being third-and-6 and they know it's coming to me and can't stop that," Witten said.

But as the Cowboys look for ways to juice up their offense, Romo may throw to Witten less.

Miles Austin had the most yards receiving in the NFC last season, despite not starting the first four games, and is sure to have a bigger role this season. Roy Williams is supposedly more in sync with Romo. And there's a solid crop of guys ready to make plays if Williams falters, starting with tantalizing rookie Dez Bryant.

Add in the trio of running backs, most notably the big-play potential of Felix Jones, and it's clear Romo has lots of options beyond his ol' reliable.

"As long as we're maximizing this offense, that's all you ask as a player," Witten said. "I think I'm a big part of this plan, but I know there are other guys in that, too. ... My mindset is to be the best tight end I can be."

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