Dallas Cowboys tight end Jason Witten borrows a catchphrase from training camp past to describe where he's at as he enters his 15th NFL season.
"I'm all in,'' the 10-time Pro Bowler told reporters over the weekend at his ninth-annual Citi Football ProCamp at DFW's Northwest High School.
For those of us who watch Witten, every step he takes is about building on the past, about building on what is already a Hall-of-Fame career. The Cowboys’ all-time receptions leader has seen 'em come and seen 'em go (and seen both twains meet on weekend nights when Tony Romo and Ezekiel Elliott are DJ'ing at a charity event ....)
... But Witten himself seems "in the now.''
“We’re just getting started,” Witten said of this new era of Cowboys, led by Elliott and Dak Prescott and of course, holdovers like Sean Lee, Dez Bryant and himself. “I think this group understands we’re playing for a lot more, even though the young players had a lot of success last year, they seem really motivated to take a further step.”
The foundation does seem to be here. The Cowboys were arguably the NFC's best team a year ago with a13-3 record achieved even after Romo went down and Prescott took over. But Dallas didn't advance in the playoffs, part of the story of Witten's football life.
Said Witten: “It was a good year. But for the last three or four months, that’s all I can think about is we can do more, we can be better. We have to. It’s been good work so far.”
For the perennial Pro Bowler, being able to be critical of that "good work'' has made him better. It helps him ... and there is a trickle-down effect.
First, Witten on Witten: “I’ve always felt like I know how much I’ve put into every off-season. And probably the best thing I’ve been able to do is the confidence to go back and be really critical of myself as a player. I’ve used these last three or four months to do that and see things that I can get better at and start that process again.”
And then, Witten -- the guy who DeMarco Murray made sure to get guidance from, the guy who DeMarco told Zeke to follow, the guy who now helps young Rico Gathers learn to be part of the process -- on that trickle-down: “Rico has made some unbelievable strides. Think about the challenge of coming in last year and not playing football since eighth grade. Physically, he’s got all the traits. He’s big. He’s strong. He’s athletic. He’s rangy. He can catch. He’s really improved with the concepts of our offense and what the responsibilities are.”
This week, Cowboys responsibilities include an OTA session at The Star in Frisco from Tuesday through Thursday. It'll be a chance for Witten to continue to build his reputation as an unselfish leader, something that was on display during his youth camp.
“I hope that’s a huge part of my legacy as a player,” Witten said. “Certainly it’s to catch seam passes and hopefully ultimately to compete for a championship. But along the way, (we) have a great opportunity as role models.”