Depth, Versatility Highlight Tight End Position Entering his second year, Jason Witten should have a bigger role in the offense. Nick Eatman DallasCowbys.com Staff Writer July 19 2004, 5:13 p.m. (CDT) (Editor's Note: This is the sixth of a 10-part series, DallasCowboys.com analyzing the Cowboys position-by-position as they begin final preparations for the July 31 start to training camp. Today will feature the tight end position.) IRVING, Texas -- Even before the Cowboys had completed the regular season a year ago, head coach Bill Parcells already had at least one goal in mind for the 2004 campaign: Get Jason Witten more involved in the offense. The rookie tight end didn't need a full season to show he not only has the tools to become a complete player, blocking and catching, but he just might develop into a legitimate playmaker. Now the Cowboys haven't had a difference-maker at tight end since Jay Novacek was snagging Troy Aikman passes in the 1990's. And certainly it's too early to start comparing Witten to Novacek, who needed only seven seasons to rank seventh in club history with 339 career receptions. But if Witten did one thing last year, he proved several teams wrong for not drafting him higher than the third round, where the Cowboys grabbed him with the 69th pick. After a slow start in the first eight games, catching only eight passes and suffering a broken jaw in the fourth game of the season, Witten came on strong in the second half of the year. He caught 28 passes in the last eight games, finishing with 347 receiving yards and one touchdown. But his ability to catch the ball didn't surprise the Cowboys as much as his ability to block. He proved as early as the preseason he could become a valuable resource in the running game, the Cowboys working him out of the backfield at times in an H-back role. And now that he's added some bulk to his but 22-year-old frame, he just might turn into a complete enough tight end to challenge five-year veteran Dan Campbell for the starting job. But then Campbell, a free-agent acquisition last year, turned into more than just a blocker. He started all 16 games at tight end, catching 20 passes for 195 yards and a touchdown. Campbell, who played four previous seasons with the New York Giants, also proved to be one of the team's vocal leaders in the locker room. Like Witten, Campbell played a bigger role in the passing game during the second half of the year, catching 14 of his 20 balls in the last eight games. Both Witten and Campbell should become fixtures in the offense again this year, but how the rest of the tight end position shapes up will come down to competition at training camp. The Cowboys drafted Boston College's Sean Ryan in the fifth round (144th overall). The 6-4, 266-pound tight end showed he wasn't just a blocker during his senior season, catching 35 passes for 447 yards and six touchdowns for the Eagles. He ended his four-year career, which included 37 starts, with 75 catches for 950 yards and 12 scores. But like every competition for a backup position, it usually comes down to special teams. While Ryan, a converted defensive end, did have 19 special teams tackles in three years, he is competing with one of the Cowboys' best special teams players in James Whalen. The fifth-year tight end has endured several roles during his career with the Cowboys, and has played on just about every special team. Whalen doesn't punt or kick, but he has held for field goals and extra points, and has been on seemingly every special teams unit, including covering kicks. Before last season, Parcells called Whalen a "satellite" player, meaning more of a hybrid player and not a prototypical tight end. Whalen was productive early last year on special teams, but after a nagging hamstring injury kept him out for five games during a six-week stretch in October and November, a healthy Whalen lost his spot on the kicking units, and was inactive for the final five games, including the Wild Card playoff game in Carolina. Considered an undersized tight end, Whalen (6-2, 244) can play like a receiver, with arguably the best set of hands on the team. He's a true pass-catcher, who usually racks up several catches in the preseason. If he can couple that with a few tackles on special teams, he'll be tough to let go. And let's not forget about Jeff Robinson, the team's deep snapper for punts and place kicks. Robinson is one of the NFL's best snappers, so barring any kind of injury (he missed all of 2002 with a torn ACL), his job is safe. The Cowboys even used him in goal-line situations last year, catching his only two passes of the season (five and three yards) for touchdowns. The Cowboys also added rookie Landon Trusty to the roster after the final mini-camp. Trusty (6-7, 270) is a free agent from Division II Central Arkansas and will be the biggest tight end on the training camp roster. He played basketball for his college team, and has some quickness for his size. How quickly he adapts from small college football to the NFL will ultimately seal his fate. The Cowboys probably won't keep more than four tight ends, and that does include Robinson. But if players such as Whalen and Ryan show they can help on offense, the Cowboys might be forced to go long here and possibly keep one less wide receiver. (Next: Wide Receiver) FITTING IN Jason Witten: Is he one of the best young tight ends around? Another year of improvement could move him into the upper echelon. Dan Campbell: Superb off-season acquisition last year; proving to be a solid blocker, and any addition he gives to the passing game is a bonus. James Whalen: The Cowboys know he's one of their better special teams players. But he'll need to develop a role on offense, despite his limited opportunities. Jeff Robinson: He showed he can be more than just a deep snapper. That will be his primary role again, but can help on the goal line. Sean Ryan: A fifth-round pick from Boston College, he won't win many footraces. But his toughness and competitiveness will stand out. Landon Trusty: This rookie played Division II football in Arkansas, so it won't be an easy transition. But his size could work to his advantage.