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August 15, 2012

Phillips says Witten irreplaceable but backup TEs will carry the load until he returns

John Phillips suddenly finds himself atop the Dallas Cowboys’ depth chart at tight end, based on the spleen injury suffered by Pro Bowler Jason Witten.

But Phillips, who returned to drills Wednesday and projects to start the remainder of the team’s pre-season games while Witten recuperates, said he realizes he is just holding a spot until the seven-time Pro Bowler’s return _ hopefully for the Sept. 5 opener against the New York Giants.

“You can’t replace a guy like Jason Witten. He’s a leader of this team, a leader of this offense,” said Phillips, who was sidelined last week with an ankle injury. “I’m not trying to replace him.  He’ll be a leader from the sidelines and help us out in the film room ... I’m sure he’ll be ready when the season comes around.”

Witten has missed only regular-season game because of injury in his Cowboys’ career. Phillips vowed to join others in helping take up the slack for as long as necessary.

“You’ve just got to step in,” Phillips said. “Next man up. That’s how we’re going to deal with it. Receivers, tight ends, fullbacks, whatever we’re going to do to make up for it. Obviously, him and Tony (Romo) have a good feel for each other and do a lot of things that can’t be taught.”

James Hanna, a rookie sixth-round pick from Oklahoma, harkened back to his sophomore year with the Sooners when standout Jermaine Gresham suffered a season-ending knee injury late in camp.

“I was thinking I was going to get a minimal opportunity and it turned out to be different than that,” said Hanna, who caught two passes for 15 yards against the Raiders and drew praise from coach Jason Garrett.

Witten’s injury created a “whirlwind” of activity Tuesday for tight end Harry Flaherty, who joined the roster Wednesday. Flaherty, a former Princeton player who is the nephew of coach Jason Garrett, said he got the word to join the Cowboys while eating lunch at his home in New Jersey. He was told he had 90 minutes to catch a flight to Oxnard, Calif.

“It was crazy,” said Flaherty, who arrived around midnight and missed the morning walkthrough.

Did he pack anything?

“Very little,” Flaherty said. “It was a whirlwind.”

 _ Jimmy Burch

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