When he speaks to the team, players listen intently. He makes them laugh. He excites them. He brings them to tears. The grind of playing professional football matters to Witten perhaps more than it should and definitely more than it does to most.
New teammates look at him reverentially and almost fearfully; they know they need to earn his trust to gain acceptance. Older teammates look to him for guidance on or off the field. Opponents respect him for his talent and professionalism.
For the front office and coaches, Witten’s combination of determination, dedication and hard work almost make him a cliché. He has set a standard that few can match with nine Pro Bowls. Only Hall of Famers Bob Lilly, Mel Renfro and Larry Allen have played in more Pro Bowls as Cowboys than Witten. With 21 catches this season, he would join Tony Gonzalez as the only tight ends in NFL history with at least 900 receptions.
Witten was named the NFL’s Man of the Year in 2012 and serves as the Cowboys’ rep to the NFL Players Association.
Although most sit on every word from Witten and the 11-year veteran rarely talks about himself, several members at different levels of the organization were asked about Witten and his impact on the franchise.
Wide receiver Dez Bryant, Witten’s teammate since 2010
"It’s amazing the way that he moves. I can’t believe it. He’s big [6-foot-6, 261 pounds] and, like, he’s real shifty. He gets in and out of his breaks so quick. I watch him, like I really pay attention to him and still try to figure out how he does it. Witt is one of my favorite, if not my favorite, persons in this world. He’s helped me so much just by being around him with not one word spoken. It’s just his presence. The way that he works, I feel like I have to do that. I have to follow that kind of person if I want to be right on or off the field. He’s played a big part in my life. I don’t know if I respect anybody as much as I respect Jason Witten."
Running back DeMarco Murray, Witten’s teammate since 2011
"I’ve spent a lot of time with him this offseason and in the past, and every day I’m picking his brain still like I’m a rookie again because he’s a perfect example of being a pro, being a great person. He’s someone you model your game after and you model yourself as a person after as well. He does it the right way, and you can see it from the 11 or 12 years he’s been in the league, and this looks like this is his first training camp. He’s just like a kid in a candy store when it comes to football. All the individual accolades, it’s meaningless for him. He never talks about it. He never wants that. All he wants is a Super Bowl. That’s something you can respect about a person with the great attitude he has, the great selflessness he has as a person, as a teammate. I’ll run through a wall for that guy."
Mackenzy Bernadeau, Witten’s teammate since 2012
"Being in the locker next to him, you get to learn more about a guy. I’ve always respected him as a man and as a player, but just seeing the way he carries himself, brings himself to work every day, how passionate and enthusiastic he is about the team, he’s an emotional guy when he’s in the game. As a teammate, you better be right. If you’re not on the right page, he’s going to make sure you’re on the right page. Very competitive. Passionate about everything he does from lifting to running. He’s a team player. He’s a guy you can talk to, hang with, crack jokes with, but when it comes time to work, he’ll be ready to work and he expects everybody else to work. He’ll get in your face, but you know when you look in his eyes he means business and he’s ready to go. He plays that way, prepares that way for a game, for a practice. You see it just every day in his walk."
The position coach
Mike Pope, first year as Cowboys tight ends coach, 32nd year in the NFL
"He’s incredible. … He only has one gear, and he’s an intense and fierce competitor. He just never wants to lose anything. I don’t care what it is. You run a sideline route in two-minute, and the official says he’s this short of the first down, he goes haywire. He is different than some guys I’ve had who can do that out here and be a great human being when they step across the sideline. I’ve had a few that couldn’t do that. They were great on this side of the sideline, but they’re not very good over there. But he’s all things to all people. The other thing is his knowledge of football. He’s got a quarterback’s knowledge of football. He knows so much about what’s going on. Very seldom, it’s rare if he misses something. If it’s new, he might take a rep or two. He’s got the vastness of all this offense for all these years, and it has changed some, but there’s a lot of plays gone through his library in the years he’s played. But he’s just a brilliant football guy. He really is."
Jerry Jones, Cowboys owner and general manager since 1989
"He’s a marvel. He’s a marvel. It’s funny, he was a subject for us visiting [in camp], and just, we were watching him down there in some specific drills, and he just executed every drill as though he were executing against the New York Giants. Just to perfection to his ability to do it. And it’s really, he’s a special guy. He’s certainly in the top-five player … person … on any level of the NFL that I’ve been associated with in the 25 years in the NFL. Period. Across the board."
Jim Maurer, Cowboys’ athletic trainer for the past 25 years
"There’s a lot of great players that have been through here, but he’s definitely got great football traits. Personally, from a medical side, you’re always wanting a guy that’s going to beat the odds every once in a while. Not necessarily with the things he’s had to beat with the ruptured spleen, but any injury, and Jason has always been the consummate professional as far as getting all the treatment he needs, asking us more questions to do whatever else we can do. A lot of guys do that. He’s not the only one, but for some reason he responds really well to everything and comes back. And not just comes back to play but comes back to play great. That’s immeasurable. I don’t know how many more of those guys are out there or will ever be out there."
The weight coach
Brett Bech, Cowboys' assistant strength and conditioning coach
"What people see on Sunday is a culmination of what starts probably in early February for him. Even this late in his career, he’s looking to improve himself physically, mentally. He never stops watching film. He takes notes feverishly. I sit right next to him in team meetings, and he’s always writing. Even the most general thing, he’ll write it in his notebook, circle it and put stars around it. For instance, ball security, five points of contact, which I’m sure he’s heard since he was a freshman in college. But we’re doing it a couple of weeks ago and he’s writing in his notebook, ‘Five points of contact,’ with stars all around it, and it’s probably the 15th time he’s been doing it, but it’s that attention to detail. In the weight room he’s always looking for ways to get his hips more flexible or to stay in peak physical condition with different ways of training, whether it’s altitude training or just interval training. He’s always asking about his technique or coming in and doing extra stuff. He knows his numbers as well as we do -- body fat and his vertical jump. He works his butt off, and it shows. I think the younger guys see that, and I’ll use him as an example. Him and a few other guys as an example of there’s a reason he’s making Pro Bowls in his 12th year because he works like this. If he didn’t, he may be a pretty good player. He may be one of our better guys. But he’s a household name because of his approach."