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With Jason Witten gone, the Cowboys pursue production by committee

OXNARD, Calif. – Aneah Dietz cannot help but smile. She is standing next to her 2-year-old brother and her mom and her dad. She is standing on the fence at Dallas Cowboys training camp.

The 8-year-old is smiling because she is happy to be here, watching her team. But she is also smiling because her dad, Oscar, is talking about Jason Witten.

“Oh, Witten,” Oscar says when asked about his team’s all-time leader in games played (239), catches (1,152) and receiving yards (12,448). “Oh, man.”

With Jason Witten retired, the Dallas Cowboys look to tight ends Geoff Swaim, Blake Jarwin and Rico Gathers to replace Witten’s production. (AP)

Oscar, 25, grew up in Orange County, California. He grew up a Cowboys fan, of course. That meant cheering for Witten on Sundays. That meant buying the No. 82 jersey he wore on this Sunday. It still hurts Dietz to talk about Witten’s retirement in May, which is why his daughter smiles when Witten’s name is brought up. But in a sense, he is over it. He has pushed through stage pain and entered stage perspective.

“I get to see him every Monday night,” Dietz says. “I’m excited for him. He’s a family man.”

Indeed, Witten will assemble adjectives and verbs as an analyst for ESPN’s “Monday Night Football” broadcast this fall. Not only were Cowboys fans like Dietz sad to see him go because of what he meant on the field for 15 years, but they were also sad because they know how hard it will be to replace him.

Production wise, the Cowboys will attempt to do so by committee. They will try, at least with a combination of tight ends Geoff Swaim, Blake Jarwin and Rico Gathers.

“We’re all just a bunch of guys who just want to play,” Jarwin tells Yahoo Sports. “Nobody holds anything against anybody else. Swaim scored his touchdown earlier, and I went crazy. I was tired, but I was like, man, that’s awesome. Good job.”

Dallas Cowboys tight end Blake Jarwin (89) and teammate tight end Geoff Swaim (87) run it back after a play during Cowboys training camp on Thursday. (AP)

Of the tight ends on the current roster — including Dalton Schultz and David Wells — Swaim is the presumptive favorite to win the starting spot. Last year, the former Texas Longhorn played in 15 games for the Cowboys, starting in two.

He often served as an extra blocker in the run game, but he has the ability to catch passes.

Jarwin, who once walked on at Oklahoma State and started as a junior, is next.  After going undrafted in 2017, the Cowboys signed him to their practice squad and ultimately added him to the roster.

Last year, he played in one game.

And then there is Gathers, the former Baylor basketball player who is still figuring out this whole football thing. He was selected in the sixth round of the 2016 NFL draft. Last year, he was placed on injured reserve with a concussion, forcing him out the entire year.

On Sunday, though, Gathers made two nice touchdown snags in 7-on-7 drills.

“I think we’ve got a good group of tight ends,” said quarterback Dak Prescott. “… We’ve got some bigger guys and some guys that can run.”

At this point, first-year tight ends coach Doug Nussmeier has to be aware of this. Nussmeier was the offensive coordinator for Alabama the year the fighting Nick Sabans won the 2012 BCS national championship.

What has Nussmeier brought to the room other than more visors and long sleeve athletic T’s?

“Great energy,” Jarwin says.

“A perspective of a quarterback,” Swaim adds.

Replacing 15 years of experience is a tall task. The current tight ends know this. Prescott does, too. Even Aneah, at 8 years old, is aware.

Once again, she is smiling as her father drifts back to 2007, to an old Orange County apartment. One Sunday night, he was watching his team with his brother, George. Witten caught a pass from former Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo and proceeded to take it nearly the distance after having his helmet ripped off.

“He was just running,” Oscar recalls.

The play pushed his fandom further, he now says. And be it Swaim, Jarwin, Gathers or another, Oscar hopes another tight end touchdown does the same for Aneah at some point soon.

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