No one’s ever questioned the integrity and toughness of Dallas Cowboys tight end Jason Witten. The guy has taken an incredible amount of punishment over what is sure to wind up being a Hall of Fame NFL career.
But one particular shot suffered in a preseason game has created doubts about Witten that have never previously existed.
When Oakland Raiders linebacker Rolando McClain leveled Witten with a hit, not many people realized just how much damage was done. Witten, of course, suffered a lacerated spleen and was immediately shut down until the regular season opener against the New York Giants. A lot of people are wondering how much residual mental damage is left over, even though the physical damage has healed.
The numbers bear out those doubts. Witten leads the league in drops, and has more penalty yards than receiving yards. A lacerated spleen is serious stuff; potentially life-threatening. This isn’t like a torn knee ligament or sprained ankle, where once it heals most players rarely think about it.
He insists he’s fine, and that everything will work out. But it’s telling that he left the locker room without having anything to say to the media after the Cowboys’ Week 3 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. For a guy who is as up-front with the media as Witten, who is as accessible after a loss as he is a win, this was out of character to say the least.
It’s not like Witten hasn’t been hit this season; he took some good shots against the Seattle Seahawks and bounced right back up. So to answer the question, it doesn’t look like being gun-shy is the problem. There’s something else in his mind that is causing a huge problem, though, and the fate of the Cowboys’ offense could hinge on his being able to solve it.
Everybody knows Witten is Tony Romo‘s best friend, both on and off the field. When he’s at his best, he’s the epitome of the term “safety valve.” He’s a guy who can get open on third-and-five when nobody else can; a guy who fights through coverage and provides Romo a reliable option when the pocket breaks down and Romo has to scramble. Romo knows where Witten is going to be at all times, and knows he can count on him like no other receiver.
If Witten can get his mind right, and the offensive line can improve to the point to where he doesn’t have to stay in to help block as often, the Cowboy offense will fire on all cylinders. Romo will be better, as will Dez Bryant, Miles Austin and the rest of the Dallas receiving corps. Until that happens, however, Dallas’ offense will find it nearly impossible to truly get on track.