Dallas Cowboys tight end Jason Witten hasn’t changed his approach in 15 years. His drive to be among the best remains as strong as ever.
Witten has been going through the repetitive and mundane drills of a training camp practice for years, but an outsider couldn’t tell. There is no lax mode when it comes to Witten.
He jogs onto the practice field every day when others might walk. He goes through every drill with intensity. He continues to be the veteran coaches tell the younger players to follow.
There’s no worry that his drive is waning as he enters the final stages of what many consider a Hall of Fame career.
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“I don’t think it’s dwindled at all,” coach Jason Garrett said. “In fact, I think his drive is greater than it’s ever been.”
Witten, 35, is given “veteran” treatment by the coaching staff with a day off once a week. He’s among six veterans who didn’t practice Monday. But that has been earned throughout his career.
Witten already owns a handful of franchise records. He has the most career receptions (1,089), most consecutive games with a reception (130), most games started (213) and most consecutive games played (219). The list continues to grow.
He should add a couple more early in the regular-season. He’ll pass Michael Irvin for most receiving yards in franchise history — he is only 16 yards shy of tying Irvin’s record 11,904 — and is one game away from tying Ed Jones’ record of 224 games played.
Those numbers are why Witten already has Hall of Fame credentials. But Witten is more concerned about winning a Super Bowl, which has always been the underlying reason for his daily drive.
He’s not ready to walk away from the game quite yet, even though he’s seen friends DeMarcus Ware, Tony Romo and Doug Free do so just this past off-season.
“As I was reflecting, I was overwhelmed with joy knowing that this game provided relationships like that,” Witten said. “In saying that, I’m also excited about the new bonds I’ve been able to form and grow with that. It’s an interesting relationship that I find myself in with these guys. It’s a lot of fun. It really is.
“I think the common ground is that we love football and the drive that we have to chase something special together is what I’ve enjoyed so much with this group.”
A coveted Super Bowl remains the priority. Witten, however, admitted the idea of being enshrined in Canton might creep in later this week when the Cowboys open their preseason Thursday night in the Hall of Fame game, with owner Jerry Jones being inducted into the Hall on Saturday.
“I’d be lying to say that’s not one of the things you hope as a player, you come in, that just to be mentioned with those guys is such an honor,” Witten said. “I think I’ll have plenty of time to reflect on it, being there. That’s the highest honor, individually.
“Obviously we don’t play for that. But, individually, that’s what you hope you can be a part of. They don’t let anybody slip through the cracks.”
Said Garrett: “I don’t think there is any doubt in my mind that he’s a Hall of Fame tight end. He’s one of the best tight ends to ever play this game, and certainly the best of his generation in my view, and such a complete player.”
As Witten alluded to, though, a championship is what keeps him going. Much like his former quarterback Romo, Witten has been plagued by playoff shortcomings. He has only been part of two playoff wins in eight career postseason games, and has yet to advance as far as the NFC Championship.
Witten would like to change that chapter of his football book. That’s why he is consistently among the most improved players throughout the offseason and awarded a golf cart at training camp.
At the end of the day, Witten feels his biggest edge for the season is developed in the offseason.
“I love going and studying film and watching areas where we can improve and getting in there and talking ball with your teammates,” Witten said. “When I lose that drive, A, I shouldn’t be playing, but B, I’m not going to be as good because that’s my whole game is understanding coverages and leverage and techniques. To me it works hand in hand.
“It’s not always easy for me. There’s a lot of days when I’m sore trying to keep up with these guys in the offseason. But it’s paying off for me.”
It’s that mentality that has helped Witten become one of the top tight ends of his generation and motivated his teammates in the process. Everybody still looks to “82” as the leader of the Cowboys.
“Man, this guy is phenomenal,” receiver Dez Bryant said. “If you can’t get motivated just by watching him, something is wrong with you. We understand that’s our No. 1 leader.
“If you want to know how to do something right, just look at Wit. The people love him. The coaches love him. The staff members love him. Our neighbors love him. I live down the street from Wit, everybody loves him. At the end of the day that’s what you want to follow.”
Dallas Cowboys 2017 schedule
Thursday vs. Arizona (NBC)* 7 p.m.
Aug. 12 at Los Angeles Rams (NFL Network) 8 p.m.
Aug. 19 vs. Indianapolis (NFL Network) 6 p.m.
Aug. 26 vs. Oakland 7 p.m.
Aug. 31 at Houston 7 p.m.
* Hall of Fame Game in Canton, Ohio
Sept. 10 vs. New York Giants (KXAS/5) 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 17 at Denver (KDFW/4) 3:25 p.m.
Sept. 25 at Arizona (ESPN) 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 1 vs. Los Angeles Rams (KDFW/4) Noon
Oct. 8 vs. Green Bay (KDFW/4) 3:25 p.m.
Oct. 15 Bye
Oct. 22 at San Francisco (KDFW/4) 3:05 p.m.
Oct. 29 at Washington (KDFW/4) 3:25 p.m.
Nov. 5 vs. Kansas City (KTVT 11) 3:25 p.m.
Nov. 12 at Atlanta (KDFW/4) 3:25 p.m.
Nov. 19 vs. Philadelphia (KXAS/5) 7:30 p.m.
Nov. 23 vs. LA Chargers (KTVT/11) 3:30 p.m.
Nov. 30 vs. Washington (KXAS/5) 7:25 p.m.
Dec. 10 at New York Giants (KDFW/4) 3:25 p.m.
Dec. 17 at Raiders (KXAS/5) 7:30 p.m.
Dec. 24 vs. Seattle (KDFW/4) 3:25 p.m.
Dec. 31 at Philadelphia (KDFW/4) Noon