(Football season is finally approaching. After a long offseason, the Cowboys are set to depart for training camp on July 25. During this final month before they begin practice in Oxnard, Calif., the staff of DallasCowboys.com is going to preview the 20 biggest questions facing the Cowboys heading into 2019.)
FRISCO, Texas – He's back.
Jason Witten decided one year away from the Dallas Cowboys was enough. With countless franchise records in his first 15 NFL seasons, the likely future Hall of Famer has unfinished business on a team many believe can contend.
Witten, now 37, rejoins a young group of tight ends that made tangible progress as last season wore on. So, how will he impact the offense in 2019? That's the next installment in our 20 Questions series.
Bryan Broaddus: I am honestly shocked that Jason Witten came back. I thought he would have given broadcasting another season before making the decision to return to the field. I have gone record saying that I didn't like the idea of him returning. Sure, the passion and desire for Witten were going to be strong, but how was the skill level? I have to say that from what I have seen from him during these OTAs and minicamp practices is a player that appears to have physically improved from the year away from the game. Witten is moving with better ease and without that stiffness that was part of his final season with the club. Where Witten is going to help this club will be on third downs on underneath routes with secure finishes. He will also be a go-to guy on those trips inside the red zone from the 18-yard line in. Witten knows how to use his big body to position for space and once again provide that trademark finish.
Mickey Spagnola: Can't see how having an 11-time Pro Bowl tight end on your team would hurt the offense. Just his presence, leadership and experience will lend a helping hand. After that, it will be interesting to see what sort of role the Cowboys carve out for their 37-year-old tight end returning after his one-year hiatus in the ESPN booth. Can't imagine he'll be playing anywhere close to the 98.3 percent of the snaps he did in 2017 or that he starts all 16 games again. Remember, the Cowboys spent valuable snaps last year developing Dalton Schultz (seven starts, 27.7 percent snaps) and Blake Jarwin (four starts, 36 percent snaps) to now do anything to restrict their progress in what amounts to their second full year playing in the NFL. (Jarwin played in one game in 2017 as a rookie.) Also, after starting tight end Geoff Swaim landed on IR for the final six games of the season, Jarwin caught 23 of his 27 passes (three touchdowns), and then five more in the playoffs. Schultz' blocking significantly improved the second half of the season he caught all 12 of his passes over the final eight games. Watch for Witten to once again be a force inside the red zone.
Lindsay Draper: The hope for Witten making a scoring impact for this team will come down to Kellen Moore's use of him in the red zone. He's without a doubt still capable of sealing off bodies, getting open for Dak Prescott, and being dependable for red zone situations. Instead of focusing on his possibly decreasing physical ability, let's shift our focus to Kellen Moore's utilization skills as an offensive coordinator. Good coaches put their players in places to succeed and play to their strengths – that's been a big source of frustration for the past few seasons for this offense. I'm hoping for a shift in that area, so the Cowboys can capitalize on their different varying talents on offense.
Rob Phillips: I agree with my colleagues about Witten's impact in the red zone. The best example I have is one of Prescott's first signature wins – the overtime victory over Philly at home in 2016 – when he got loose in the back of the end zone for the deciding touchdown. As he told us during OTAs, his game has never really been about speed. It's more about fundamentals and technique and understanding of the scheme he's been in here for over a decade. I don't expect him to play 99 percent of the snaps, but I expect him to be involved, for sure.