IRVING, Texas — To call Jason Witten durable might be one of the biggest understatements ever uttered about the current Cowboys tight end. That’s because since Dallas took him in the third round of the 2003 NFL Draft, the former University of Tennessee standout has missed just one game in the regular season and that came back in 2003, when he was a rookie and something of an unknown commodity with America’s Team.
Of course, in those nine years since making his NFL debut, “Witt” has not only turned into one of the most consistently dependable contributors in a talented Cowboy offense, but the Tennessee native has also come to be regarded as one of the top pass-catching tight ends in the entire league.
However, that run of durability might be coming to an end considering Witten’s status for the Cowboys’ 2012 season opener on Wednesday night against the reigning Super Bowl champion New York Giants remains up in the air after the perennial Pro Bowler suffered a lacerated spleen in Dallas’ Aug. 13 preseason opener against the Oakland Raiders.
Witten is slated to have his next test on Tuesday, after which everyone should have a much better idea about whether or not this key cog in the Cowboy offense will be on the field against the G-Men in the Garden State or if he is in a place that has been pretty unfamiliar to him during his NFL career — the sidelines.
He addressed his status heading into the 2012 opener after practice on Sunday afternoon at Valley Ranch.
“The reality of it is that spleen injuries are complicated,” Witten said. “I think it healed quicker than people thought but ultimately it’s a quick turnaround. You look it up a lot of those things [recovery times for spleen injuries] are a lot longer than this. They [the team doctors] have got to feel comfortable on seeing what I’ve done. That’s why I’ve really tried to push it myself to try to speed up and put myself in every position to get that done.”
Should No. 82 not be able to answer the bell against the champs, then John Phillips will likely be the No. 1 tight end for the ‘Boys. 2012 draft pick and local product James Hanna will likely be the secondary option and newcomer Colin Cochart, who played 10 games with the Bengals in 2011, is likely the third tight end to open the season.
Witten has been doing all he can while not being cleared to practice; things like running and making sure he keeps his conditioning up in the event that he is cleared to play in the opener. However, for a guy who hasn’t battled injury much at all during his successful career, even he acknowledges the nature of this injury makes the process a bit different than what he might go through with an injury that could be best described as a more typical one in NFL circles.
“I ran on the side and all that type of stuff. I pushed it to the point where my conditioning and all those things I want to be on top of my game. Been in these situations before where you don’t practice as much and then you get the opportunity to go, you want to make sure you’re at the top of your game in that situation. So that’s what I’m trying to do right now,” he said after practice on Sunday. “It’s a little different for me because if I felt good, I was always able to play. This situation’s a little different just because three weeks off a spleen injury.”
And being the ultimate gamer and competitor he is, Witten is keeping his eyes on the prize — being on the field as he and the Cowboys look to exact a bit of revenge on the same Giants team that ended their playoff hopes with a 31-14 win on Jan. 1 at MetLife Stadium.
“This is what you play for. You work so hard. I know what that feeling was like, losing up there. Obviously it’s just one game but it would be great to get a big win up there regardless if I play,” he said.
Of course, the proof will be in the pudding come Tuesday, when the results of his latest test will ultimately determine whether he plays against the G-Men or if he is in the rare position of being a spectator. “We’ve got to get the right guy to look at it and evaluate it. They [the Cowboys] are going to handle that the right way,” Witten said. “I’m doing everything I can.”