Witten enjoys good preseason


Jason Witten (49) stands on the sideline during the CowboysÕ preseason opener in Arizona.

By Wes Holtsclaw
STAR STAFF
wholtsclaw@starhq.com
There were high expectations of Jason Witten from the moment he was drafted in the third round by the Dallas Cowboys. But even he has eclipsed what many NFL experts expected in his first few outings.
Witten has had a successful run this far with America's Team. He has become a favorite of Cowboy head coach Bill Parcells and is already listed at number two at the tight end position on the Dallas depth chart.
One of his goals entering the team's training camp in San Antonio was to make the cut out of five talented tight ends on the squad, including Dan Campbell, Tony McGee, James Whalen and Jeff Robinson.
"He seems to be doing pretty good," said Jason's grandfather Dave Rider by phone Thursday night. "They're looking at a lot of people, so he has to make the best of it."
"Dallas had one cut, moving it back to 65, and by Sunday they'll be back to 53." he said. "It's hard on everybody because you never know what will happen. We hope he will make it."
Since the four solid outings to open the preseason, Jason has turned a lot of heads with Dallas fan base. Many of whom are looking at him to be the "next Jay Novacek."
"(The fans) think he's going to be another Novacek, that's what they want him to be," Rider said. "He's got a great opportunity."
Rider saw Jason's first game in Phoenix, Ariz., when Dallas played the Arizona Cardinals, and his third game, on the road, against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
In his professional debut, he caught two passes for 32 yards from current Cowboys starter Quincy Carter.
He made two grabs for 21 yards against Houston, was one for eight against Pittsburgh and made two big grabs against Oakland in Dallas' lopsided win on Thursday, with the third most receiving yards on the club.
The family had a dream for one of the boys to make the NFL. Jason's older brother, Shawn, had his dream cut short after a brief stint with the New York Jets, but Jason is in the midst of his.
"It's tickled me to death," Rider added. "It's always been a dream for somebody from the family to make it and Jason's making the best of it. I had to be there for the first game and it was very emotional to see him play."
The final Dallas cuts have not been sent in, but it appears as though Witten will make the team with flying colors after signing a three-year contract with the club.
It makes many people within the organization excited about the one-two punch at the position with the former New York Giant Campbell and himself.
Campbell, a good blocker and pass catcher, signed with Dallas after losing the starting Giants' job to Jeremy Shockey.
When Jason first came out for the NFL Draft, he was drawing comparisons to the current Giants starter, Shockey. But Witten is a completely different player and he is very versatile.
Not only is he seeing reps at tight end, but the Elizabethton native has been shifted around the Cowboys offense. His blocking has been the focus of the squad, while his speed and pass catching for his size have been the attention grabber.
"He's been playing quite a bit and he's been moved around at tight end, fullback and H-back," the former Elizabethton High coach said.
Rider plans to attend Dallas' season opener next Sunday as they host the Atlanta Falcons.
It will not be the same Atlanta team without Michael Vick, but the Cowboys have a better chance to win, and the game gives Witten more time to show what he's capable of instead of the one or two quarters given during the preseason games.
CNNSI called Jason a 'Fantasy Football League Sleeper.' If he begins the regular season much like he's played throughout the preseason, it will awaken many of the eyes within the football world.