Phillips Impresses Witten

When the Dallas Cowboys opened training camp last summer, coaches, players, media and fans all allowed themselves to dream a little, to envision how effective the offense might be if the team spent more time in a two-tight end formation.

After all, starter Jason Witten is among the elite players in the NFL at his position, ending every season with a spot in the Pro Bowl, and backup Martellus Bennett showed what a tantalizing prospect he is, with his defensive end build and running back speed. Witten (6-6, 263) and Bennett (6-6, 267) are enormous, and enormously gifted. Each runs well, and each has good hands as a receiver.

Since graduating from Tennessee, Witten has grown into a capable blocker; Bennett showed improvement as a blocker in 2009.

But toward the end of last season, when the team went to a two-tight end set, it often was John Phillips, the rookie Dallas drafted in the sixth round of last year's draft out of Virginia, who took the field with Witten. He didn't necessarily have the same sizzle with Dallas fans — Bennett was a high school All-America at Taylor High School in Alief, Texas and was a star at Texas A&M, where he also played basketball for a couple of years — but through the course of the season, Phillips quietly improved his route-running and proved to be a strong blocker. When Bennett played inconsistently, Phillips got more and more time on the field.

Phillips is another who fits the Dallas mold — he carries 265 pounds on his 6-6 frame — and his performance on the practice field Monday caught the eye of none other than Witten.

"He did good today," Witten said of Phillips. "He ran some of the plays that he really hasn't been used to running. He just steps right in. He's one of those crafty guys — he finds a way to get it done. I think it is probably one of the best practices I've seen from him in two years.

"He works his tail off. Whatever you ask him to do — he does it pretty good. I've been impressed by him."

Bennett has missed the first three days of practice, having been placed on the Active/Non-Football Injury list with a sprained ankle. In his absence, Phillips has gotten more playing time with the first- and second-team offense, and Witten said he was impressed with Phillips's ability to take advantage of the opportunity to show what he can do.

"With Martellus (Bennett) down, there are more reps for us," Witten said, "and (Phillips) definitely played well when he was in there."

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