For as unpredictable as the Dallas Cowboys have been over the years — both on and off the field — Jason Witten has been the one constant.
He’s been the one guy who has done the right things consistently on the field and off the field. He’s the security blanket for Tony Romo, or whoever is quarterbacking the team. He’s the go-to spokesman in the locker room and at public functions.
He’s the guy whom coach Jason Garrett points to and tells others to follow. Rookies hear the phrase “Do what 82 does” hundreds of times.
“Jason Witten is unbelievable,” second-year guard Zack Martin said. “You ask any guy in the locker room who the leader of the team is and it’s him.
There have been a lot of great football players who come through the Dallas Cowboy organization over the years, and through my experience being here, he ranks among the best of them that I’ve ever been around.
Cowboys coach Jason Garrett about Jason Witten
“It’s incredible to watch him work and realize he’s been doing it for 13 years. He doesn’t take anything off. He takes every rep. He goes at full speed. He treats everything like it’s a game. It’s really impressive.”
Witten has become Mr. Reliable for the Cowboys, and it’s no surprise he is on the verge of two significant milestones. On Sunday in Miami, he’ll pass the great Bob Lilly for the Cowboys’ record for most consecutive games at 197.
It’s a record Lilly set in 1974. Witten has missed only one game in his career — with a broken jaw his rookie season.
And Witten could also flirt with joining the 1,000-reception club. He is eight catches shy of getting into that elite company that includes only one other tight end — Tony Gonzalez (1,325).
His catch ratio for balls thrown to him is incredible. Like last week, he was 5 for 5. The week before he was 6 for 7. It’s incredible. If the ball gets close to him, he catches it.
Tight ends coach Mike Pope on Witten
“There have been a lot of great football players who come through the Dallas Cowboy organization over the years, and through my experience being here, he ranks among the best of them that I’ve ever been around,” Garrett said. “And he’s arguably as good a guy as I’ve ever been around, as good a teammate as I’ve ever been around. He certainly has ability. But what makes Jason Witten great is who he is and how he goes about it each every day.
“He’s the most unbelievable example I’ve seen as a player or a coach where you can just point to him and say, ‘Do what 82 does’ in really everything he does each and every day. I get chills down my spine just talking about him.”
Garrett talked about Witten’s ability to inspire the team, remembering a speech he gave during training camp.
“The presentation he made to the football team was arguably as good of a presentation as I’ve ever heard from any player or coach in my time in football,” Garrett said.
“I’ve been around a lot of coaches and there were a lot of veteran coaches in that room who walked out of there and said I’ve never seen anything like that.
“He’s just … his investment in his craft, in his profession, in this team, is unlike any other. He’s just a special, special guy.”
For Witten, the records and milestones he reaches are something to be appreciated. He knows the history of the sport and the importance of being put in the same sentence as Lilly for consecutive games, or being associated with guys such as Jerry Rice and Gonzalez with 1,000 catches.
He remembers his first catch against Atlanta in 2003, hauling in a 13-yard pass from Quincy Carter. And he surely remembers the countless others over the years, including the signature 53-yard catch against Philadelphia in 2007 in which he had his helmet ripped off or even last postseason against Detroit when Romo found him on fourth-and-6 for a 21-yard gain that kept their season alive.
Witten and Romo have connected for 646 catches.
And Witten, who entered the season having caught at least 70 passes in seven of the past eight years, hasn’t slowed down in his 13th season. He has 49 catches for 445 yards.
“His catch ratio for balls thrown to him is incredible,” tight ends coach Mike Pope said. “Like last week, he was 5 for 5. The week before he was 6 for 7. It’s incredible. If the ball gets close to him, he catches it.”
11 Ranking for Jason Witten in all-time NFL receptions. He’s eight away from 1,000 for his career, which would tie Hines Ward for 10th. Jerry Rice has 1,549.
Offensive coordinator Scott Linehan called Witten the best option route tight end he’s ever seen. In other words, Witten has shown a unique ability to get open by dissecting the defense and choosing the right route during a particular play, known as the Y-option.
“He makes it look like other plays. It’s never going to look like the same play twice,” Linehan said.
“He thinks through it more than, ‘The route is at this depth and this is my rule.’ It’s, ‘What do I have to do to get open? If I get man [coverage], how am I going to run it versus zone? Is it single high? Is it two high?’
“The fact that he has all those tools and those nuggets makes it one of those plays [the Y-option] that you can really rely on. He’s been the best at it that I’ve been around, that’s for sure.”
Witten already ranks as one of the game’s great tight ends. However, his biggest attribute might be his presence in the locker room.
He takes pride in being a leader, and it has shown during the Cowboys’ current seven-game losing streak. He’s been instrumental in keeping the locker room together.
“We’ve played in a lot of games with our back against the wall and we’ve had to do that,” Witten said. “It doesn’t make it any easier. It just means that we’ve been there and we understand where we’re at and we have to take advantage of our opportunities.”
Cowboys at Dolphins
Noon, Sunday, KDFW/4
I am Iron Man
Jason Witten has played in 196 consecutive games. He is tied with Bob Lilly for most in team history and he has the longest streak among all active players in the NFL: