Wisdom of Witten

SAN ANTONIO - When he was drafted in the third round of the 2003 NFL Draft, a lot of observers knew little about tight end Jason Witten, other than the fact that he was a big country boy who had been a prolific receiver at Tennessee and had an endearing aw-shucks quality about him during interviews.

Now headed into his seventh NFL season, that has changed. Witten is a fixture in the Pro Bowl, one of the top handful of players in the entire league at his position, a wildly popular player for his toughness as much as his receiving ability, and suddenly one of the longest-tenured Cowboys on the roster. He, linebacker Bradie James, quarterback Tony Romo and cornerback Terence Newman are tied for the third-longest careers on the Dallas roster; only Flozell Adams (heading into his 12th season with the club) and center Andre Gurode (2009 will be his eighth) have been with the Cowboys longer.

As training camp hits full swing, Witten weighed in on a number of subjects:

• There is a perception in many circles that the Cowboys, while still a very talented roster, find themselves in an underdog role in an NFC East division that should be the best division in the NFL again this season. The New York Giants and Philadelphia Eagles are perceived to be two of the NFL's heavyweights again in 2009, meaning the Cowboys and Washington Redskins could be asked to overachieve to have a chance of reaching the playoffs. That role suits the Cowboys just fine, Witten said.

"Now, people are talking about the other teams, and that's good," Witten said. "The good thing about this team is we're not looking for anybody to feel sorry for us. The focus is there, the approach is in the right place, and it's just about bringing it together as a team and seeing where it falls. I don't know what's going to happen with this team, but I'm just really excited about the enthusiasm, the togetherness and the approach we have right now.

"We have a high standard for ourselves. I think we have a humble way of going about it and we focus on the approach and there are other teams out there that are really good and we will focus on those teams."

• Head coach Wade Phillips has said this week that the team must take better advantage of the talents of Marion Barber, Felix Jones and Tashard Choice and become one of the elite rushing teams in the NFL.

"Absolutely — when you think about those three weapons we have, that's a pretty talented group," Witten said. "That's Marion's style: just imposing his will, and eventually they (opposing defenses) will break, and then throw Felix and Tashard in there, and it's a dynamic group."

• There are those who believe that with the offseason departure of receiver Terrell Owens, the Cowboys will have to rely much more on the rushing game. The team has the three-headed monster of Barber, Jones and Choice, and aside from Witten and wideout Roy Williams, no elite receivers. Witten disagrees that the offense will be one-dimensional, however, citing expected contributions from Patrick Crayton, Miles Austin and other young Dallas receivers. In addition, he agrees with Phillips' assessment that backup tight end Martellus Bennett has improved immensely, and said the idea of pairing up with Bennett in some two-tight sets should give the Cowboys enormous offensive flexibility, and should create mismatches that opposing defenses will have difficulty defending.

"I just think that for the guys that are really interchangeable … you have that kind of relationship and you go off one another and it puts defenses into a lot of tough situations," he said. "So it's a big part of our offense and were looking to build on that."

• Some have suggested quarterback Tony Romo needs to assert himself as more of a leader, but Witten said that's not the case, adding that Romo already is the leader and that he does an excellent job of helping his teammates reach the standard he has for himself in terms of preparation and practice.

"As a quarterback, the standard that he creates, more than what he says — obviously if something needs to be said, I think Tony does a good job — but just setting the tempo, the way we practice … what we're about as an offense, it kind of falls on Tony, and the quarterback in general," Witten said. "He has done a great job of rallying everyone around and bringing everybody on board to his tempo, his standard of how we're going to practice (and) play, and everything that we do.

"We weren't successful (in 2008), and the quarterback and head coach are always graded on how we win, so I think Tony understands those challenges, and I think he understands that it's on him. Ever since I've known him, he's always had a high standard for himself, much higher than any of us can create."

Whether it's fair that the quarterback earns such a large majority of the credit for team success, and blame for team failure, Witten said, really isn't that fair, but it's the nature of the quarterback position. He said Romo understands that, but pointed out that no matter how talented Romo is, he can't lead the team to postseason success without his teammates improving their play, too.

"I don't know about (most of the burden and responsibility)," Witten said. "Hey, it's a team game, and obviously the quarterback is the one they first point to, and give the credit (for victories) and if we lose, the failure. So I don't know that we should all put it on him — it's a team game, and we've got to help him out — but it's a team game and he understands the responsibility of the quarterback position very well, and he feels that and I think he wants that responsibility. That's the biggest thing we want — he's embracing this opportunity, and really excited about the opportunity he has to lead us.

"I think he critiques himself and understands what he has to do as our quarterback, through the highs and lows, because there's a lot of that in the course of a season. So Tony understands that, and through all of that … yeah, he hasn't won a Super Bowl, but I think for most of us, we wouldn't trade him for any quarterback out there. But he embraces that opportunity, and he's excited to be the leader of our (offensive), and I like how he's rallying all of us to play at his level."

• Not only is Witten Romo's most comfortable target in the passing game, but he also is one of his quarterback's closest friends off the field. When critics point out that Romo has yet to lead the Cowboys to a playoff game, Witten said it hits him personally, too, because of both the professional and personal relationship the two enjoy.

"Absolutely — I think a lot of what the quarterback takes is really the team, and any time you don't win, obviously that (quarterback play) is part of it," Witten said. "He understands it, and we're in this together, and that's part of what this training camp is all about: getting back to work, having the focus and mindset to move forward, and just trying to put a good team together, and see where the chips fall.

"I hope it is (the year Cowboys end their playoff dry spell). More than anything, we're just going to put the work in now, and see where things fall."

CowboysHQ Top Stories