Tight ends play big role in Cowboys' preseason opener Print
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Friday, 10 August 2007 10:33
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 IRVING, Texas (AP) -Jay Novacek's visit to training camp seems to be paying off for his successors on the Dallas Cowboys.
The former All-Pro tight end watched some practices in San Antonio and shared his opinions with Jason Garrett, his former teammate who is now Dallas' offensive coordinator. He later joked that his advice to Garrett was, ``Throw the ball to the tight end. Golly, it's so simple.''
Well, guess what: In Garrett's first game calling plays, the Cowboys did exactly that - and, they might've done even better with two more looks to the tight ends.
In a 23-10 victory over the Indianapolis Colts on Thursday night, tight ends accounted for a big chunk of the passing offense. Jason Witten, Anthony Fasano, Tony Curtis and Adam Bergen combined for eight of Dallas' 20 receptions, and 103 of the team's 200 passing yards.
The stat sheet from any preseason game, especially the opener, is easy to dismiss. Still, it's safe to assume the blocker-receiver types will get their chances in this offense.
``I think it was just a matter of what the defense was giving us,'' Fasano said. ``The tight end had more opportunities. It was nice. It's only one game, but it was nice to get off to a good start.''
The first-string offense played only two series and marched inside the Colts' 10-yard line both times. They had to settle for field goals but might have had touchdowns if quarterback Tony Romo had thrown a couple more balls to his tight ends.
Witten was wide open near the goal line during the first drive on a pass that was overthrown to Terrell Owens. Fasano was uncovered in scoring position on the final snap of the second drive, a pass over the middle to Marion Barber.
``We have to improve in so many different areas - technically, mentally and physically,'' Garrett said. ``But it's the first preseason game. We have a long way to go. ... I wanted to see some touchdowns. But it was our first time out. I think we'll get better converting those points.''
New head coach Wade Phillips is a defensive guy, but he has input on offense. His theory is get the ball to the best players. That's easy in this offense, because there are many.
Teams are bound to focus on Terrell Owens - the recipient of the very first play of the Phillips-Garrett regime - and Terry Glenn, once he's back from a knee problem. As long as Julius Jones and Barber remain viable threats carrying the ball, that leaves favorable matchups for the tight ends.
``When they do that, you've got to take advantage,'' Phillips said. ``If you can do it, you make plays. And we did.''
The only wrinkle is Romo must trust his tight ends. For instance, Novacek blossomed because Troy Aikman knew his tight end would always be in the right place and wouldn't drop anything.
Romo and Witten have that kind of relationship, too. They broke in together in 2003 and were close friends off the field before Romo joined his buddy in the starting lineup last fall.
``He's understanding the system and getting the ball out to the tight ends and running backs,'' Witten said. ``He must continue to do that for us to be successful.''
If Fasano and Curtis continue to do what they did Thursday night, coaches may call more plays using two tight ends.
Fasano, a second-round pick last year, struggled to find his niche as a rookie, catching 14 passes for 126 yards. He had three for 43 yards in this game, with a long of 18. Curtis led the club with 58 yards on his three catches, with a long of 26.
Those 18- and 26-yarders also happened to be Dallas' two longest plays.
Coincidence? Probably not to Novacek.
Extra points: Phillips was especially pleased the Cowboys had no turnovers. Penalties were down, too, but he noted a defensive one led to the Colts' only touchdown. ... End-turned-linebacker Anthony Spencer, the team's top pick, on his debut: ``I didn't have any mental mistakes. I feel comfortable out there. I got close (to the quarterback) a couple of times. I just couldn't get him. I just have to work on getting up the field faster.'' ... Matt Moore has a leg up on Richard Bartel in the race to be the third QB, a job likely to mean a spot on the practice squad. Moore followed backup Brad Johnson and went 7-of-9 for 88 yards. Bartel was only used on the final series and didn't throw a pass. ... Players had to show up to team headquarters Friday but didn't practice. They hit the field again Saturday.

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