OXNARD, Calif. – Tight ends coach Wes Phillips wasn’t sure how to approach it.
While this might be his first season in his new role, Phillips is no stranger to the coaching staff as he enters his seventh year with the club. And he’s heard more about the game of football from the breakfast table, listening to his dad, Wade Phillips, and his grandfather, Bum.
So when Phillips prepared the tape of last year’s preseason game with the Raiders, he proceeded with caution when it came to a certain catch over the middle made by Jason Witten. It just so happened to be the one that Witten got hit awkwardly in the midsection, causing a lacerated spleen injury that instantly put his season in jeopardy.
As it turned out, Witten only missed the remaining of training camp and he found a way to make it back for the 2012 season opener against the Giants. He wasn’t himself for the first three or four games of the year, but obviously found his groove in time to have not only a Witten-like campaign, but even better than that. He set the NFL’s single-season record for catches by a tight end with 110 and returned to the Pro Bowl for an eighth time.
But even though it turned out to be a storybook season for Witten individually, the play itself was thought about again as the Cowboys return to the scene Friday night for another preseason game with the Raiders at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum.
View Photo Here.
USA TODAY Sports’ Lindsay H. Jones posted the above photo to her Instagram, a photo that shows Dallas Cowboys tight end Jason Witten and his two sons.
Each of Witten’s sons are wearing Witten #82 jerseys with “Daddy” as the name.
If you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go swim in this sea of adorableness.
The Cowboys play in Oakland Friday, which is where they played their first preseason game last year, and where star tight end Jason Witten got seriously injured.
Witten got hit after catching a short pass and was later diagnosed with a lacerated spleen.
During his daily press conference, Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett was asked about the injury from nearly a year ago.
“We stood right outside that cafeteria, about three minutes after he heard the news about what it actually was,” said Garrett. “And he said, ‘I’m playing in that Giants game.’
“I kind of looked at him and said, OK what are you going to do in the next couple weeks? (Witten said) ‘I have to be motionless in my bed for two weeks.’
“I was like, huh, this will be interesting timing. But he’s just an amazing guy.”
Of course, Witten did make it back in time to play in the regular season opener against the New York Giants.
“Forget 110 catches, forget 8-time Pro Bowl, forget all that stuff,” said Garrett. “When you tell the Witten story, I start with that one.”
Playing in Oakland means playing on dirt, at least some of the time.
The Raiders play in O.co Coliseum, which they share with the Oakland A’s. That means some plays begin on the infield dirt.
“I guess it’s one of the last fields that has the dirt infield, and you just gotta’ deal with it,” Garrett said. “Reminds you of the old days.”
In fact, the Coliseum is the last stadium to have MLB and NFL played there.
It used to be common. Cincinnati, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia (among others) had those cookie-cutter stadiums born in the late 1960s and early 70s, stadiums designed specifically to be home to both baseball and football teams. Those stadiums had the rock-hard AstroTurf that was hard on athletes, but easy to maintain.
Cleveland’s old Municipal Stadium had both the Browns and Indians play there until Jacobs Field (now Progressive Field) opened in 1994. Candlestick Park hosted both the 49ers and Giants from 1971 until 2000.
Very recently, the Dolphins and Marlins in Miami shared Sun Life Stadium, but that stopped when the baseball team moved to their new downtown stadium in 2012.
So playing in Oakland is truly unique now.
“The approach is to remind them to get out there early, get your shoes right,” said Garrett. “Don’t let equipment beat you.
For years, the Cowboys have been nothing if not erratic. Whether it’s quarterback Tony Romo’s on-field inconsistencies, the vacillations of owner Jerry Jones, or the propensity of a very smart head coach (Jason Garrett is a Princeton grad who scored a 36 on the Wonderlic test) to make silly in-game decisions, Dallas has all too often seemed like a team that just cannot get out of its own way.
The exception — the Cowboys’ one consistent bright spot over the last several years — has been tight end Jason Witten. Witten has caught more than 90 passes in four of the last six seasons, including 110 last year, despite battling injuries and having to catch passes from both Good Tony Romo and Bad Tony Romo. Witten is not the vertical threat he once was, as his yards per catch dipped below 10 last year for the first time since his rookie season. But his game is like a veteran NBA power forward: working the underneath areas, always hitting the open 15-footer, and making up for what he lacks in raw speed with an incredible combination of power, balance, and practiced, nuanced agility.
What makes Witten special is how he uses a natural knack for getting open at football’s highest level. It’s a backyard principle that he’s made work in the NFL, primarily with what is known as an option route. As its name implies, receivers on an option route don’t just run x-many yards and simply break in or out. Instead, they have several choices within the same play, all depending on what the defense does. For the Cowboys, Witten’s “routes” are often a suggestion: Just get open.
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