Knew It All Along

IRVING, Tex. - Being an effective quarterback requires far more than size and arm strength. Consider that in the 1998 NFL Draft, there were two quarterbacks coming out of college who stood 6-foot-5 and could fire a football from the 50-yard line to the parking lot of most stadiums.

Some league scouts, coaches and personnel executives swore the decision between the two was as tight as any in their memory, that a coin toss might end up being the deciding factor between … Peyton Manning and Ryan Leaf. Yikes.

It happens every year. Coaches, fans and media fall for a player (at any position) because of his size or strength or time in the 40-yard dash. But by such superficial measuring sticks, Dallas Cowboys quarterback Jon Kitna should be sitting on his couch, or perhaps coaching a local YMCA team of kids.

Kitna is not supposed to be able to play as well as he has in relief of the injured Tony Romo. He has guided the team to a 4-4 record in the games he has started, and has thrown 15 touchdowns and 10 interceptions ... and several of those were picked off after being deflected by receivers. To say he has been a pleasant surprise this season is an understatement. Calling him the best backup quarterback in the NFL wouldn't be an enormous stretch.

But according to veteran wide receiver Roy Williams, Kitna's performance is no surprise at all. The two first played together when they were teammates with the Detroit Lions, and were reunited after the Cowboys acquired them in a pair of trades, in 2008 (Williams) and 2009(Kitna). According to Williams, Kitna's performance always has gone beyond his ability to escape defensive pressure and throw the football. Kitna, Williams said, is as valuable as a leader of his teammates as he is a leader of the offense.

"He talks to everybody," Williams said. "It doesn't take a leader to talk to everybody, but he listens, too. When you're the Dallas Cowboys' quarterback, you kind of have to talk to everybody, and he does: offensive guys, defensive guys and special teams guys. He likes everybody, and everybody likes him."

Williams' affection for his quarterback doesn't prevent him from slipping in a playful barb between compliments.

"I think it shows his character," Williams said of Kitna's ability to come off the bench and take the reins of the Dallas offense. "I don't know how he could be any more real. He's been in the league for 64 years, but he knew his role (as Romo's backup) and stayed ready.

"‘Kit' is a fighter. Does he want to start? Yeah — who wouldn't? But you do what the man says. When Romo comes back, it will be back to the sideline (for Kitna). He's 46-and-a-half years old [actually 38], and he has got to know it (the end of his career) is around the corner. ‘Rome' has got a lot of years left."

Williams talked generously about Kitna's ability on the field, but it was evident that his admiration for Kitna, the man, far exceeds his admiration for Kitna, the quarterback.

"He's one of the few guys I'd let keep my kids," Williams said. "I'm not sure how much he'd want that, but that shows how much trust I have in him. I couldn't ask for a better teammate."

Williams said his admiration for Kitna formed almost immediately when the two became teammates for the first time in 2006, when Kitna arrived in Detroit after spending the previous five seasons in Cincinnati.

"It was instant — day one," Williams said when asked when he developed his extraordinary respect for Kitna. "You can tell a guy's character in the first two sentences you say to each other.

"That's the kind of impression ‘Kit' makes on people. You want to be around him, you want to play with him. I think that's a big part of why he has done so well — people just respond to him."

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