Witten in pads, Cowboys prep for opener

IRVING, Texas (AP) — Dallas Cowboys coach Jason Garrett was a few minutes late to the podium Saturday, then abruptly ended his daily briefing with the media earlier than usual.

Apologizing while making his quick departure, after noticing the time on the clock in front of him, Garrett said he had to get to practice.

“Guys, I hate to be rude, I feel like I’ve been bad today, but I’ve got to get to practice,” he said.

This was far from a regular Saturday at Valley Ranch before a game.

Instead, it was the middle of game-week preparation for their unprecedented Wednesday night season opener at the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants. All while the Cowboys also made changes to the 53-man roster and signed eight practice squad players in time for them to all be on the field.

A hopeful sign for the Cowboys was having tight end Jason Witten on the field in pads, able to run around and catch some passes. It was his first time in pads since lacerating his spleen when he took a hard hit during the preseason opener at Oakland on Aug. 13.

Witten has missed only one game in his career, because of a broken jaw as a rookie in 2003. He is hopeful of being medically cleared to play against the Giants in the NFL’s kickoff game.

“Obviously, it’s beyond just me. I hope so,” Witten said. “It’s a big game for us.”

The seven-time Pro Bowl tight end said his recovery has been progressing good and that he feels “really good.” He didn’t know when he would see a doctor again, but figured there would be evaluations throughout the week.

“It’s been a long process obviously,” he said. “You’ve got to just stay with the plan. … It was good to be out there, and so that’s all I can do, and stay ready.”

Witten will have to be cleared by doctors to play, and figures there will be evaluations throughout the week. He said he will be fitted for protective equipment to wear when he does play.

Garrett said Witten has been moving around and catching footballs for the last week or so.

“We’ll continue with his progression,” the coach said.

With Witten still uncertain, the Cowboys claimed tight end Colin Cochart off waivers Saturday from Cincinnati. Cochart played in 10 games and started three last season after originally signing with the Bengals as an undrafted free agent.

To make room on their 53-man roster for Cochart, No. 3 quarterback Stephen McGee was released.

That move was announced only minutes after Garrett had talked about how much he liked having three quarterbacks on the roster. With McGee cut after Rudy Carpenter was left off the original 53-man roster, the only quarterback on the roster other than Tony Romo is Kyle Orton, who was signed in the offseason to be the primary backup.

“What we try to do is try and manage the roster as best we can,” Garrett said. “We want to keep good players, at the same time we understand that we have to manage the different injury situations that we have particularly early on in the season.”

Receivers Miles Austin and Dez Bryant were also in full pads during practice.

Austin, a two-time Pro Bowler who missed six games last year because of issues with both hamstrings, didn’t play in the preseason. Bryant sat out the last two preseason games because of tendinitis in his right knee.

During the short portion of practice opened the media, former Pro Bowl cornerback Mike Jenkins was not on the field.

The Cowboys said after their preseason finale Wednesday night that Jenkins, who missed the entire offseason and preseason recovering from shoulder surgery, passed his physical that day. It was unclear how much he would be able to do, and the team wasn’t required to put out a practice report Saturday.

Among the players signed to the practice squad was rookie receiver Danny Coale, the injury-hampered fifth-round pick left off the 53-man roster at Friday’s deadline. After breaking his foot during the rookie minicamp in early May, Coale dealt with a sore quadriceps during camp and played in only two preseason games.

Another cut player added to the practice squad was undrafted offensive lineman Ronald Leary. Though Leary had chronic knee problems coming out of Memphis, he was guaranteed $214,000 in base salary when he signed as a free agent with Dallas after the draft.

The other practice squad players are defensive tackles Ben Bass and Robert Callaway, receiver Tim Benford, linebacker Orie Lemon and a pair of running backs from North Texas, Lance Dunbar and Jamize Olawale.