Sparano still an influence on Jason Witten

OXNARD, Calif. – Before the Dallas Cowboys' Wednesday morning practice against the Oakland Raiders, Jason Witten made a point to seek out Tony Sparano.

Sparano, the Raiders' offensive line coach, was Witten's position coach in the tight end's first two years, earning his first of nine Pro Bowl appearances in 2004.

"Coach Sparano was a great influence on my career," Witten said. "I had him for two years as tight ends coach coming out of college and really a lot of what I learned was from him early on. Just to have him invested in me when nobody thought I had a chance that was important for me to see. So it was good to catch up with him. Obviously he's a tough guy. Obviously it's his way or the highway so he taught me a lot about toughness and how you approach the game and I'll always be fond of what he taught me in the relationship we had."

Sparano was tough on Witten, telling him he wouldn't play if he couldn't block. Perhaps tougher than Bill Parcells, the head coach.

"He told me from Day 1 what he thought I could be," Witten said. "I'll never forget that. I still keep in touch with him. Just to see him have an opportunity as a head coach, I always knew that was something he wanted. He'll get back there. He's someone you try to pass that on, the knowledge of the game he taught me about the big picture, it was neat for me to see that."

So Sparano saw 879 catches, 9,799 yards and nine Pro Bowls?

"Don't know that he thought that," Witten said. "But he told me it was going to happen. Maybe not nine. Maybe one or two."