- Calvin Watkins, ESPN Staff Writer
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It sounds crazy, but tight end Jason Witten has been an afterthought in the Dallas Cowboys' red-zone offense.
Witten has four seasons on his resume with more than 1,000 yards receiving and 90-plus receptions.
The eight-time Pro Bowler caught a NFL-record 110 catches for a tight end in 2012, and his 1,039 receiving yards tied for fourth-most in league history at that position.
But why can't Witten get targets in the red zone? He was targeted just once in 2012 and it resulted in a touchdown. Meanwhile, the top four red-zone scorers last season were tight ends -- Rob Gronkowski, Heath Miller, Kyle Rudolph and Tony Gonzalez. Dez Bryant led the Cowboys with three red-zone scores, tied for 18th in the NFL.
"That's something we talked about this year, more than ever," Witten said. "The field gets tight there, and I think part of it is we try to use Dez there with fades on one-on-one coverage. Offensively we just haven't done a good enough job putting points on the board and I'm apart of that. Hopefully I'll get more touches and opportunities, and that's something we worked on this offseason. I felt like in training camp we saw some results of that and I'm excited to see it carry over into the regular season."
Witten's responsibilities are different in the red zone. There are times where he has to help block a defensive end or outside linebacker and, by the time he releases into the field of play to become a target, quarterback Tony Romo has already gone through his progressions.
The Cowboys hope the offensive line improves in 2013 so Witten won't have to chip in as much. And with a focus on two tight-end sets, perhaps James Hanna or Gavin Escobar will block so Witten can become a target.
"That's part of it, trying to get the protection and then get laid out and attacking on the outside," Witten said. "That's just strategy that we've done. Tony has done a real good job the last couple of years with the protection, just finding receivers. You never want to take away from a team finding a way to score. At the same time, you want to maximize with the tight ends. There's a mismatch down there sometimes."