IRVING, Texas –Jason Witten and his spleen are in a race against time to get ready for the season opener in New York. If the organ can just heal as easily as Witten seems to have buried it mentally, he'll be fine.
On Saturday, less than three weeks after suffering a laceration of the spleen in a preseason game, Witten returned to the practice field at team headquarters in full pads, running out of the locker room and going through warm-ups as if nothing was bothering him.
Saturday's session was the team's first contact workout devoted entirely to preparation for the New York Giants. While Witten looked like his normal self, the practice was closed to the media after stretching. Though he wore pads, it's not believed Witten was involved in contact. He has yet to be given a green light to play, but said he felt good on Saturday.
"I think we know where it's at," Witten said. "I've just got to get cleared and put in position to play. It feels good. It feels really good. So, it was good to run around and actually put the pads on and stuff."
The Cowboys weren't required to release an injury report designating each player's involvement. However, head coach Jason Garrett said before the workout that the club anticipated Witten "moving around a little bit, catching the football."
"He's been doing that for the last week or so," Garrett said. "So, we'll continue with his progression."
Witten has taken considerable steps forward since the weeklong period when he was required to remain idle to promote healing, but doubt remains as to his status for the Giants game. If we were able to play, he would wear a flak jacket or another protective harness for his midsection. The Cowboys claimed a fourth tight end on Saturday just in case, Colin Cochart, previously of the Cincinnati Bengals.
"You've got to just stay with the plan," Witten said. "Obviously it's beyond just me. I hope (to play). Obviously it's a big game for us."
Though Witten was notably present at Saturday's practice, two other players were conspicuous in their absence - cornerback Mike Jenkins (shoulder) and nose tackle Jay Ratliff (ankle). While Ratliff was still on crutches just a few days ago, Jenkins passed a physical Wednesday and had been cleared to practice on Saturday.
Before the first of two weekend workouts, Garrett expressed hope Jenkins could get back into practice and get comfortable in his first on-field activity since New Year's Day, but that apparently didn't happen. The head coach has said he needs to see Jenkins practice before he can play, so his inability to take a step forward Saturday, in the only padded practice of the week, could be a sign he won't be ready for the opener.
The Cowboys weren't expecting Ratliff to practice Saturday. He was diagnosed with a high ankle sprain on Aug. 25 against the Rams, in his first game action after a long recovery from plantar fasciitis. Since he has had a high ankle sprain in the same leg before, his recovery isn't expected to take as long as the four-to-six-week timetable that is often given for such an injury.
"He'll do what he's able to do," Garrett said. "Hopefully as the week progresses, we can get him closer and closer to playing."
Returning to practice Saturday, as expected, were receivers Miles Austin (hamstring) and Dez Bryant (knee), along with outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware (hamstring). Rookie linebacker Kyle Wilber, who broke his thumb early in training camp, was suited out in full pads as well, and said he had normal participation.
Wide receiver Andre Holmes, who injured his knee in Wednesday's preseason finale, sat out the session, as did safety Danny McCray, a week removed from suffering a neck stinger in the third exhibition.