IRVING -- Jason Witten has been cranky the past few weeks. Witten is only happy when he is on the field, and he hasn't been on the field.
"It's been a long process, obviously," Witten said Saturday. "You've just got to stay with the plan."
The Dallas Cowboys tight end still has hopes of playing in the season opener against the New York Giants, but he has not been medically cleared for contact yet. He will return to see the specialist for his lacerated spleen sometime before Wednesday, though he said he has not scheduled the doctor's appointment yet.
"Obviously, it's beyond just me," Witten said. "I hope [to play]. Obviously, it's a big game for us, too."
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Witten took another step toward returning by practicing in pads Saturday. He was limited in his on-field work -- coach Jason Garrett called it a "portion of practice" during a conference call with reporters in New York -- but the Cowboys liked having No. 82 back.
"I'm able to do more and more each day," Witten said. "Obviously, I just ran around with pads and everything. Again, I think we know where it's at. I've just got to get cleared to put me in position to play."
Witten lacerated his spleen in an Aug. 13 preseason game against the Oakland Raiders. He had a scan Tuesday that showed the spleen is healing.
The Cowboys are in the process of getting Witten extra protection for his midsection.
Witten is known for his toughness, once gaining 53 yards against the Eagles after losing his helmet. He has missed only one game in his career. He sat a game against the Eagles in his rookie season of 2003 with a broken jaw.
"I wouldn't be surprised if he picked up his spleen, held it in his hands and tried to run routes," Giants tight end Martellus Bennett, Witten's backup for four years, told New York reporters.
It seems more likely that, given the nature of the injury, Witten returns for the Week 2 game at Seattle. That would give him an extra 11 days to assure the spleen is completely healed.
To that end, the Cowboys added an insurance policy Saturday. They claimed Colin Cochart off waivers from the Cincinnati Bengals, cutting third quarterback Stephen McGee to make room.
Cochart joins Witten, John Phillips and rookie James Hanna in the team's tight ends room. Cochart played in 10 games last season with the Bengals, with three starts, and made five catches for 44 yards and a touchdown.
The Giants, though, would get a gigantic break if Witten is unable to play. He has caught 88 passes for 1,004 yards and six touchdowns in 19 games against the Cowboys' NFC rival.
"All you've got to do is look at the tape," Giants coach Tom Coughlin said of Witten. "He leads the team in receptions far and away. The quarterback is very comfortable in all circumstances getting him the ball, and he does an outstanding job of maneuvering and getting open and then finding a way to advance the ball when he catches it. He's very versatile and used in a lot of different ways, and the quarterback is very, very comfortable knowing where he is."
Charean Williams, 817-390-7760