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Cowboys’ Witten out with lacerated spleen

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By David Moore
The Dallas Morning News
OXNARD, Calif. — No matter what has gone wrong for the Dallas Cowboys these last eight years, no matter who has been out with injury, the coaches and players have always known they could count on Jason Witten to line up and play.
The Cowboys can no longer take this for granted.
Witten will miss the team’s final three preseason games, and his status for the opener Sept. 5 against the New York Giants is in doubt. The Pro Bowl tight end has a lacerated spleen that will prevent him from doing any strenuous physical activity, even jogging, until training camp is over.
“It’s a very serious injury, and we’re really taking this thing day-by-day,” coach Jason Garrett said. “He has to be very still and idle for the next week to 10 days.
“A big challenge for him is sitting still. He will say, ‘I can get out there. I can run a little bit.’ He obviously can’t do that.
“He’s got to be very still and not exacerbate that injury in any way.”
There is no rupture. The laceration, in Garrett’s words, is slight. But the injury remains serious.
Surgery is not required at this stage. But if the laceration doesn’t heal properly and blood continues to spill into Witten’s abdomen over the next week to 10 days, it remains an option.
That’s why Witten must refrain from any activity that might inflame the laceration and jeopardize his health.
“I’ll be all right,” Witten yelled to reporters from a golf cart as he was escorted back to his room at training camp.
Witten is tough. He has missed only one game in his career, and that was due to a fractured jaw his rookie season. The tight end has played in 139 consecutive games — his only scratch came on Oct. 12, 2003, against Philadelphia — and has been the most reliable option in the Cowboys offense over that span.
But John Garrett makes a point. The Cowboys passing game coordinator and tight ends coach said Witten can’t afford to be ”dumb-tough.” This isn’t about Witten shouting at doctors to let him back in the game after a hit to the head or arguing with the training staff and coaches about a sore knee. This is an internal injury with no room for interpretation.
Once it heals, he’s cleared. No sooner.
“It’s a medical decision first and foremost,” Jason Garrett said.
John Phillips, who is just now working his way back into practice after an ankle injury, will take Witten’s place in the starting lineup. But as Phillips said, “You can’t replace a guy like that.”
No kidding.
Witten has caught 696 passes for 7,909 yards and 41 touchdowns in his career. The other four tight ends on the roster — Phillips, James Hanna, Andrew Szczerba and Harry Flaherty, who was signed Wednesday — have 22 receptions for 163 yards and one touchdown combined.
All of those belong to Phillips.
Witten’s absence means the Cowboys won’t run as many two-tight end sets the remainder of training camp. Fans will see more formations with three wide receivers and two running backs.
“The mistake we can’t make is (saying), ‘OK, John Phillips you’re back in, you’re ready to go,’ and we’ll give him 800 reps,” Garrett said. “We’ve got to manage it.
“It’s one of those positions you can manage with personnel groups as well. We just have to adjust the scripts a little bit to make sure we’re not overworking a guy at that position.”
Jason Garrett doesn’t believe the time Witten misses will be detrimental to the veteran. He said the tight end has looked as good as he ever has in camp and the time off will actually allow him to return fresh.
A rationalization? Garrett swears it isn’t. But it does remove quarterback Tony Romo’s most reliable option as the Cowboys try to get their offense in sync in time to face the Giants.
“Obviously, him and Tony had a good feel for each other and did a lot of things that can’t be taught,” Phillips said. “We’ve just got to adapt and keep moving forward.”
Linebacker Sean Lee said Witten remains positive and spent Wednesday trying to lift the spirits of his teammates.
“It’s a tough deal for him, obviously,” Lee said. “But if there is anyone with the type of character who can handle this, it’s Witten.”
No. 82 can handle what lies ahead.
Can the Cowboys say the same?
Story tags » NFL

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