OXNARD, Calif. -- Perennial Pro Bowl tight end Jason Witten is the epitome of a professional, the 2012 NFL Man of the Year and an outstanding role model for kids.
He's also one of the most underrated trash talkers in the NFL.
"Well, just in practice," said Witten, who wants his trash talk to bring out the best in teammates, much like Michael Irvin's mouth did during the Dallas Cowboys' 1990s glory days. "You compete. I think it's good for all of us. I really don't say anything in games, but in practice, I think it makes you better. It definitely makes me better as a player."
Get close enough to the practice field during training camp and you'll hear Witten's wit. It's rare for him to get a reception and not let the nearest safety or linebacker hear it, occasionally mixing in a colorful term.
And he's really ruthless with the rookies, often sneering and sarcastically reminding them that, "This is the National [bleeping] Football League!" Every once in a while, he'll loudly recommend that the coaches replace the player he just caught a pass (or several) against.
Witten's message, in so many words: You better perform to a certain set of standards to be on the same field with him and the rest of the Cowboys.
"We're counting on those guys to help our football team," Witten said. "They need to know we need them, we're depending on them. This is the standard with which we do it. ... That's creating a standard to say, ‘Hey, if I want to be on this team or I want to be a part of it or I want a role, this is the way I've got to do it.' It's the only way we're going to have that breakthrough that we talk about, going out here and having that carry over to games."
Sometimes, only Witten's intended targets hear his trash talk. He admits to intentionally provoking defenders by whispering, "That's all day," routinely after making receptions. Barry Church said Witten often mentions how many seasons of experience he has abusing safeties.
"He talks stuff so cleverly," Church said. "It gets you so mad and then you try to get back at him and his back's already turned and he's already running back to the huddle. He's definitely one of the most underrated (trash) talkers there are in the game. He's definitely talking stuff out there, but it brings the best out of everybody."
So Witten spews trash talk throughout training camp but never on Sundays, huh? He never takes verbal jabs during the regular season, right?
"Oh, man, he's lying," Church said. "He's such a liar. He's talking stuff all the time, but he's a great competitor and I love him for it."
Wanna set the record straight, Witten? You sure you've never talked a little trash under the bright lights?
"Well, a little bit, a little bit," Witten said, laughing. "Yeah, I probably talk a little bit of trash."
Just a little bit, like after almost every pass he catches. And Witten ranks second in receptions all-time among tight ends, as he's probably reminded a rookie or two this summer.