“I’m loving it,” Witten said before he was inducted into the Texas Sports Hall of Fame here on Saturday. “I’m invigorated by the process of going back in there. I really feel like obviously I’ve got a lot of energy coming back in there. I’m excited, and I think you just get back in there. That’s what I’ve enjoyed the most, getting with the guys, start looking at some tape and working out with Coach [Mike] Woicik and the strength staff some.
”There’s been nothing like it. I feel like a little kid when my car pulls in. I’m looking forward to the next six, seven months.”
There is no doubt that Witten feels he made the right decision to return to the Cowboys. He also has expressed no doubts about his ability to help the team.
Asked if he had any self-doubt in his return, Witten said, “I don’t, but I also understand that people are going to. I understand that. And hopefully, over time, they’ll see it, right? That’s the good thing about this game is it always shows. I’ll be ready. I know what the expectations are for me, and a lot of that stuff will play out on its own. I wouldn’t make a decision like that if I didn’t feel like I couldn’t come in there and help them. That’s something I thought through a lot before I made that decision [to come back].”
That all sounds good in theory. But the reality is that Witten will be 37 when the season starts and he has just spent a full year away from football. How much he truly has left in the tank is an open question.
When Witten decided to return, there was talk about him accepting a reduced role. There was even a number thrown around on that.
Witten knows he can’t play as many snaps as he once did, so he is on board with 25 snaps per game. He will not be a progress-stopper for the young guys, according to sources.
25 snaps per game? For comparison, in the 2017 season Witten averaged about 65 snaps a game. In 2017 he played on 98.4% of the offensive snaps, in 2016 it was 96.3%, and for 2015 it was 99.1%.
So can the Cowboys really get Witten to accept less? One way that could happen is if the other guys at tight end are producing. Let’s take a look at the numbers for the tight ends in Witten’s final season (2017) versus what happened last year (2018).
Witten, by himself, had almost as many catches, he had more touchdowns, and only fell behind in overall yards compared to 2018. In other words, in Witten’s final year he was basically as effective as the entire tight end contingent from 2018.
Of course, the Cowboys are hoping that the combo of Blake Jarwin and Dalton Schultz will improve some more after they started to come on strong at the end of 2018. When Jason Garrett was asked about limiting Witten’s number of plays, he had this response.
“I think, to answer your question, I think over the last couple years, as you get into Year 14, 15, I think [Witten] recognizes the importance of being able to take a practice off in training camp, and I think the same thing applies to how we would use him in a game right now. His greatest strength is his competitiveness, his desire, his drive to be a great football player and have a positive impact on our team. He’ll go to all ends of the Earth to be able to do that. That’s why he’s a Hall of Fame player. You never want to take that away from him. Having said that, we have a couple of young tight ends who emerged last year and started playing better and better as the year went on. We feel like those guys will have a role for us. All of that stuff will be fleshed out as we get going, but suffice it to say we’re really excited he’s back. We’re excited about the development of those young guys and how that tight end group is going to be.”
So BTB, do you buy the Cowboys limiting Witten to less than half the snaps on offense? Or when push comes to shove, will they roll #82 out there on almost every play?