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Cowboys position series: Tight ends

The fourth in a series looking at each of the Dallas Cowboys’ position groups:

Players: Jason Witten (signed through 2012), Martellus Bennett (signed through 2011), John Phillips (signed through 2012)

What went right: As usual, Witten went to the Pro Bowl. He’s arguably the best all-around tight end in the league.

Witten caught 94 passes for 1,030 yards and played a key role in a running game that ranked seventh in the NFL. He had trouble making plays down the field early in the season, but that changed when Miles Austin forced defenses to use more man coverage on Witten.

John Phillips performed above expectations as a rookie, allowing the Cowboys to use some three tight-end packages, occasionally with him lining up as a fullback. He proved to be a solid blocker, and he responded when Martellus Bennett’s concussion opened up a larger role, catching three passes for 40 yards in the win over the New Orleans Saints.

What went wrong: Bennett’s poor production was one of the offense’s biggest disappointments.

The second-year tight end, who has phenomenal physical tools, appeared to be a budding star during training camp. But Bennett’s numbers (15 catches, 159 yards, no touchdowns) represented a significant drop from his rookie season despite a significantly increased role.

Owner/general manager Jerry Jones made it clear at the end of the season that Bennett needs to be more focused. Bennett has star potential, but he won’t be a reliable target until he stops dropping passes and starts running precise routes.

What’s next: With Witten in his prime and two young backups, the Cowboys are set at this position.

The hope is that Bennett will mature enough to blossom and Phillips will continue to improve. If that’s the case, the Cowboys will have the league’s best tight end trio.