Cowboys 1st and 10: The Ageless Witten + Inside Rookie Minicamp

Just what can we expect from Jason Witten in 2016? How unique is The Star the Jones family is creating in Frisco? And what does one scout think of the Cowboys now? Find out in First and 10.

Each Sunday I provide 10 quick hits on the Dallas Cowboys. What can we expect from 34-year old Jason Witten this season? Plus, I help put into context why The Star is such a big deal in this edition of First and 10.

1. How ageless is Jason Witten? I asked myself that question on Friday when I realized that Witten turned 34. Wow. Incredible.

But it got me thinking. Witten plays a tirelessly physical position, as most NFL players do. He's entering his 14th NFL season. How much longer can we expect him to keep producing like an elite tight end?

As always, I tried to use history as a guide.

Let's look at this through the prism of games played, shall we? Witten has played 207 games. Among tight ends that's seventh all-time. So here is the Top 8, with their seasons played and total receptions:

Tony Gonzalez, 17 seasons, 1,325 receptions

Pete Metzelaars, 16 seasons, 383 receptions

Rodney Holman, 14 seasons, 365 receptions

Ed West, 14 seasons, 237 receptions

Jackie Smith, 16 seasons, 480 receptions

Howard Cross, 13 seasons, 201 receptions

Witten, 13 seasons, 1,120 receptions

Shannon Sharpe, 14 seasons, 815 receptions

What's amazing about this list is that Metzelaars, Holman, West and Cross didn't really have reputations as pass-catching tight ends. They were combo guys who were really third and fourth options in their offenses. So they aren't good comparisons to Witten. Neither is Smith, though, to be fair, he was the Witten of his day. The Hall of Famer caught just three passes in his 14th NFL season, though he played 12 games.

Really, the only good comparisons for Witten are Gonzalez and Sharpe. So how did those two players do their 14th seasons?

Gonzalez: 16 games, 70 receptions, 656 yards, six touchdowns.

Sharpe: 15 games, 62 receptions, 770 yards, eight touchdowns.

In fact, if you look at Gonzalez's stats. He actually had single-season totals of 80, 93 and 83 in his final three seasons, which is just absurd. Sharpe retired after that 14th season.

               

What Witten is doing right now is amazing. If you're not watching it you're missing out. As long as he stays healthy, I suspect Witten will have another great season. He's aging well and paving his own way to the Hall of Fame. And he likely won't be done after 2016, either. ... as he keeps himself busy in every possible way. Cool note from this week at rookie minicamp inside of Valley Ranch, where Ezekiel Elliott revealed that DeMarco Murray advised him to follow Witten, learn from Witten and mimic Witten in his actions.

Reflected tight ends coach Mike Pope: "Witten is the 13th Disciple. He helps everybody."

2. Here's my post-draft appearance with Wess Moore on Fox Sports Radio Arkansas, talking about the Dallas Cowboys. If you're in Arkansas and you have an FSR affiliate you can catch Wess from 11 a.m.-2 p.m. weekdays. If you're not, find the audio on the Internet at foxsportsarkansas.com or through many of the live streaming apps out there. I'll always post my appearances with Wess in advance on Twitter at @PostinsPostcard if you want to listen in live.

3. Tashard Choice is a new assistant running backs coach for the Dallas Cowboys. The Cowboys made the move earlier this week. (And naturally, Tashard gave the details first to CowboysHQ.com.) First, congrats to Choice on not only the job but also lasting long enough in the NFL as a player (six years) to grab a full NFL pension and annuity plan. That's a big deal when you consider the punishment these guys endure.

Second, he's been coaching for a bit at the high school level under Jon Kitna, who is the head coach at Waxahachie High School. But this a great situation for Choice to come in and learn, similar to what Leon Lett did after his career ended. Lett started working as a volunteer assistant at UNLV, took a full-time position coaching defensive linemen at ULM and in 2011 joined the Cowboys as part of the minority coaching fellowship program. He's is now the Cowboys' defensive tackles coach. It will be interesting to see if Choice follows a similar path.

Choice will work under Gary Brown and with Zeke, of course. But that'll be a crowded room (and not just because Darren McFadden might get squeezed. Read on). Dallas is moving linebacker Keith Smith to fullback and Rod Smith will get work there, too. The running backs room will headquarter a lot of teaching this spring and summer.

4. The unveiling of more of the amenities at The Star earlier this week, which our Mark Lane covered the heck out of, made me think of my time covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

                            

When I arrived on the beat in the fall of 2004 the Bucs were still in the same facility the franchise used when it starting playing in 1976. It was, well, a dump by NFL standards. It was cramped. When the players ate they had to get in the buffet line in the hallway next to the locker room, and when the media came in for open locker room it became a mess to walk through. I remember getting summoned to GM Bruce Allen's office once, just for a chat, and thinking to myself, "This is a GM's office?" I think it would have fit snugly into a corner of Jerry Jones' current office. The media? Oh, that was fun. We were in a double wide trailer in the parking lot. We were so close to the practice fields we could hear practice, but couldn’t see it because we had no windows.

Two years later the Buccaneers opened up a brand-new facility. It was like night and day. The media had their own area in the facility with state-of the-art everything and 30-feet ceilings. The media was a short walk from the practice fields, which tripled in size. The Bucs gave the media a tour and everything was first-class. I managed to see even more of the facility when I covered a USA Football camp at the facility in 2008. The Glazer family did a fantastic job all the way around.

And THAT facility didn't have a Ring of Honor Walk, a restaurant district, retail stores, places for fans to watch training camp practices or an indoor practice facility, much less a 10,000 seat one that will double as a high school football stadium. That gives you context when thinking about the enormity of the $1.5 billion project Jones, his family and the City of Frisco have undertaken for The Star.

And the Bucs' facility would fit snugly in one of the corners.

5. After a short break, CowboysCast is back. Bobby Belt hosts a full-on draft review with our Mike Fisher, Scouting Academy's Dan Hatman and Fox Sports Australia's Lauren Horesh, who flew all the way up from Down Under last weekend to witness the NFL Draft for the first time (or at least the way Cowboys fans celebrate the NFL Draft).

Check out CowboysCast today and download the Cowboys Sports Radio app today for IOS and Google. That way you can listen to CowboysCast whenever you want.

6. I'm spending the next several days doing deep dives on five of the Cowboys' draft picks. Why? One of my side jobs is as editor-in-chief of College Football America Yearbook. As part of my duties for the book I catch college football games around the country. Last year, through complete coincidence, I caught five of the Cowboys' nine draft picks in person, including the Cowboys' first- and second-round picks, Ezekiel Elliott and Jaylon Smith. So I'm working my way through film study of those games to try and give you a glimpse of what you can expect from these five players in 2016 and beyond.

I've already filed my reports on Central Michigan safety Kavon Frazier and Eastern Michigan running back Darius Jackson. Elliott, Smith and Oklahoma's Charles Tapper are coming up next week so stay on the lookout. Click here for tons of Cowboys draft stuff.

7. Last week in this space you might remember that I introduced you to a player named Deon King. Actually, you might have already heard of King if you're a loyal reader of this site. King was a Norfolk State linebacker who led Division I in tackles last year (160), a player the Cowboys signed as an undrafted free agent. I told you this guy was worth following.

Well Jordan Ross went one step further, digging deep to find four OTHER players who, based on their skill and their situation, have a real shot at making this team despite being undrafted free agents.

                

Who are they? Well, give the story a read and find out because 60 percent of NFL rosters last year were made up of players drafted in the third round or later, or not drafted at all. Some of these guys will stick.

King is a LB to watch on one level, of course, with Jaylon Smith on another level. And yes, CHQ is watching him this intently:

https://twitter.com/fishsports/status/729016843843723264

8. This week's Great Moments in Headline Porn? "Jerry Jones: We hope Jaylon Smith will be back for the playoffs" from profootballtalk.com. Really? Because just about everything we've heard locally is that the Cowboys aren't expecting Smith back in 2016.  

In fact, our Mike Fisher cleared it all up earlier this week. He's good at that — clearing things up.

9. There was a lot of chatter about the running back situation on Twitter this week. It was mostly about who will be the odd man out between Ezekiel Elliott, Alfred Morris and Darren McFadden. Most seem to think it will be McFadden.

Before anyone starts calling for a trade of one of the vets, remember that it's a long way to September and injuries are a way of life in the NFL. The Cowboys are already staring at not having Lance Dunbar for part of the season, depending on how his injury rehab goes. No, you hang on to all three of those guys through the preseason and see if you can find a rotation that works. You also see what develops on other teams, in terms of running back competitions and injuries. A golden opportunity might present itself to move Morris or McFadden for maximum value.

Having great depth is not a bad thing in the NFL at any position. In fact, our Jordan Ross breaks down the entire situation here. It's a premium piece and it's well worth joining CowboysHQ as a premium subscriber. If you can do without a cup of coffee a month, you can be a CowboysHQ subscriber. I mean it's that easy. And when you consider that you get news from Mike Fisher, Mark Lane, Cami Griffin, Jordan Ross and a host of others -- as well as access to all the other NFL teams, the Mavericks, your favorite college programs, and more 1-on-1 visits with Cowboys personnel (from Jerry to Dez to everyone in between) it's well worth your money.

10. I'm not a fan of blind quotes, but occasionally I find one that piques my interest. I found this one in a Bleacher Report story (via the Dallas Morning News), given to the reporter by a NFC General Manager:

"The Cowboys are starting to scare me. You could always count on Jerry Jones (expletive) things up. That isn't happening any longer. That's a Super Bowl-caliber team now."

                           

A healthy Dez helps that. Garrett saying that QB Tony Romo will be "ready to be involved in the offseason program'' helps, too. But in any context and any framing ... Hmmm. Interesting. Very interesting.

Want to talk more about the Cowboys? Hit the CowboysHQ.com Boards or hit Postins up on Twitter at @PostinsPostcard and Mike Fisher at @FishSports.


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