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The moment Jason Witten’s teammates thought he was “back”

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Going deep into Jason Witten’s return to the Cowboys.

NFL: Dallas Cowboys-Minicamp Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Jason Witten is just like the rest of us, at least in one way - he has a dream where the Dallas Cowboys win the Super Bowl. In his version of the dream, he can picture grabbing the Lombardi trophy and holding it high in the air. It’s just about the only thing the future Hall of Famer has left in his career to accomplish. It certainly played a role in his return to the field.

Before any of that can happen, though, there’s the work to be put in. Some of it has already happened, but much of it will take place over the next six weeks or so as the Cowboys head out to Oxnard to start training camp for the 2019 season. It was during the offseason workouts that have already occurred that Witten gave his teammates that “he’s back” moment.

In early May, after the Cowboys’ second on-field teaching session, a text message of a quick video was sent to a group of teammates. In it, Witten is lined up tight to the right side of the formation. Dak Prescott is in the shotgun. At the snap, Prescott fakes a handoff to Ezekiel Elliott as left guard Connor Williams pulls to sell the run even more as Witten sprints down the field.

Prescott’s throw is a little high, but Witten makes a one-handed catch. Every offensive lineman makes the sprint 25 yards down the field. Prescott comes in late, wind-milling his right arm in celebration.

In context, it doesn’t seem like much. There was no defense on the play and it took place in an early offseason setting, not exactly high stakes. But it gave his teammates confidence that Witten could return and make an impact on the offense in 2019. By all reports, Witten seems to be in shape and ready to play, with some even remarking that he looks fresher from his year off from the game.

Witten has that certain something that seems to inspire his teammates. Maybe it’s his work ethic, maybe it’s his personality, maybe it’s his leadership qualities. It’s likely a mixture of all that stuff alongside a proven track record of production. Whatever it is, his teammates respond to it.

“To see him in the first thing being out there with the guys moving as well as he’s moving, making incredible catches, that’s something he’s done his entire career,” linebacker Sean Lee said. “His personality is infectious, but just being on the field with the guys, making plays like that, we love seeing it. Everybody got so excited. You saw the whole line run down. Dak was crazy. I went up and watched it in the film room afterward and got excited watching it.”

Witten is like everyone of us in another way besides dreaming of a Super Bowl win for the Cowboys, he is motivated by his past. When Witten wasn’t drafted until the third round all the way back in 2003, he wasn’t happy and he held on to that to start his career.

He can still rattle off the four tight ends selected before him: Dallas Clark, Indianapolis, No. 24 overall; Bennie Joppru, Houston, No. 41; L.J. Smith, Philadelphia, No. 61; Teyo Johnson, Oakland, No. 63.

Witten was picked No. 69 overall and was so angry that when his brother, Ryan, grabbed a Cowboys flag out of his bedroom, he barely cracked a smile. At the celebratory dinner at Outback Steakhouse, his buddy Michael made a list of successful players selected lower. That did not change Witten’s demeanor either.

When the Cowboys kept drafting young tight ends to challenge him, he used it as further motivation. Witten’s style of play lends itself to aging gracefully in the NFL, something that is rare. Father Time is undefeated and will eventually get Witten too, but Witten’s instinctive knowledge of how to get open, his uncanny feel for the game, means he can last longer than guys who just rely on athleticism to get by.

Playing against no defense in offseason workouts, without pads or hitting, is one thing. Now the intensity goes up a notch. Observers of the Cowboys will get to see if Witten has still got it when the pads come on and when guys are hitting.

This could be his last year, no better way to end it than by grasping the Lombardi.