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May 18, 2014

Witten says draft 'speaks volumes' about how much Cowboys want to improve offensive line, running game

After watching the team draft another offensive lineman in the first round, tight end Jason Witten said it’s clear the Cowboys are sticking to their commitment to run the ball better.

“I think it says a lot about where our football team’s headed,” he said Sunday as he wrapped up his football camp at Grand Prairie High School. “It was huge for us, because for a long time, we didn’t have that solidified. I think it speaks volumes for where we’re at and where we’re trying to go.”

Witten said he was as curious as anyone else when the Cowboys were picking at No. 16 and Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel was available.

But the Cowboys went with perhaps the safest pick on the board, Notre Dame tackle Zack Martin, and made him the third No. 1 pick added to the offensive line in the past four drafts by the Cowboys.

“I kind of thought they wouldn’t do it, but obviously I thought he would probably be gone before that point,” Witten said of Manziel, who was drafted six picks later by the Cleveland Browns. “I thought it was pretty amazing to see the circus that was, anticipating that pick. I think everybody’s adrenalin got going when that was going on.

“I think he’s a good player and he’ll have a lot of success in this league. But I think for us and the commitment to Tony, I’ve said it throughout our careers, I think he’s an elite, elite quarterback and going to bring us a championship here.”

So Witten appreciates the effect a reliable offensive line can have for Romo, who will enter this season coming off two backs surgeries in 2013. The Cowboys put Martin at right guard in the rookie minicamp this weekend, so they’re likely thinking of a line that includes 2011 No. 1 pick Tyron Smith at left tackle, Ronald Leary at left guard, 2013 No. 1 pick Travis Frederick at center, Martin at right guard and veteran Doug Free at right tackle.

“If you’re just picking guys to say, ‘Hey, we’re shoring up a spot that’s important to us,’ that’s one thing. But I mean, these guys are really good players,” Witten said. “I think Tyron’s as good of an offensive linemen as there is in the National Football League. Travis is everything you want at center – he’s smart, he’s tough, dependable, only going to get better in his second year. And now, Zack. I think when you do that, it just makes your entire football team go. I think this is a league where if you can be good upfront, everything else flows off of that.”

DeMarco Murray ran for 1,121 yards last year, ending a six-year drought of 1,000-yard rushers for the Cowboys.

“DeMarco was able to have over 1,000 yards rushing, and we still didn’t run the ball enough,” Witten said. “We weren’t good enough at it. That wasn’t because we didn’t want to – we just weren’t efficient enough when we needed to be. If you have the ability to run the ball when you want, everything flows off of that. The play action’s better. The dropback game is better. The screens are better. And more imporantly, you’re keeping these opposing offenses off the field. I think that’s something we’ve made a priority. And we need to build off of that and do a better job than last year.”

-- Carlos Mendez

Twitter @calexmendez

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