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Eatman: Mr. Nice Guy Witten With Different Approach This Year

Posted Aug 8, 2012

OXNARD, Calif. – He won’t say it officially. In fact, he’s rather uncomfortable about being at the top of this list.

But like it or not, Jason Witten is the leader of this team.

Not only is he one of the best overall players on the squad, and arguably in the entire NFL for his position, but he’s the most outspoken player the Cowboys have.

One thing is for certain out here in the first 10 days of training camp in Oxnard: Jason Witten has a different demeanor about him.

Call it focused. Call it determined. Call it frustrated or maybe just downright pissed off.

But Witten’s crankiness is evident here as he goes about his business in his 10th pro season. (And let’s focus on that for a second. Ten years for Jason Witten? Really?)

Now, the fans might not even notice a change. Witten still signs as many autographs after practice as any player. He’ll pose for pictures and smile and do the very things that have made him a fan favorite since the moment he got here in 2003.

But when it comes to football and the things that matter on the field and in the meeting rooms, Witten has a different mindset.

“I am a little different than I’ve been before and that’s just because I think we feel a true sense of urgency,” Witten said. “We’ve had feelings like this every year, but this year just seems different. I’m tired of it. I’m tired of the same ol’ stuff. We say the same things every year and the results have been the same.

“I think in the past we’ve had an attitude like, ‘Hey don’t worry guys. We’ll fix that problem. We’ll get better here or there.’ And at some time you just want to say enough is enough.”

It actually reminded me of a conversation I had a month ago with former Cowboys safety Darren Woodson, who was also the vocal leader during the last few seasons of his career. Woodson said he realized at some point that being “Mr. Nice Guy” wasn’t going to cut it. Woodson said he ultimately decided he didn’t care if the players liked him or not.

And to some degree, Witten is the same way.

“You can’t be everyone’s friend all the time,” Witten said. “If I see something happen, where a guy doesn’t line up right or keeps making the same mistake, I’m going to say something. I’ve always been that way, but I think it’s a little more of that this year. Players can hear it from the coaches for so long, but when you hear it from a player, it’s different.”

Witten credits former tight end Dan Campbell for having that same approach with him when he first entered the league. And Campbell was a tell-it-like-it-is kind of guy. He was blunt to the media and probably the same way to his teammates.

Witten said this year he’s already confronted one of his younger teammates who had made a repeated mistake, basically just laying it out there in simple terms.

“I told him, ‘Hey, you’re not doing anything for them to keep you right now,’” Witten said. “I mean, sometimes you have to be honest like that. But I’ll be honest, this really has been a good group. You have some things that happen and guys need to pick it up, but I think everyone is getting the message.”

And Witten won’t ever call himself the only leader. He said guys lead in their own way, pointing out Jay Ratliff as the emotional leader on the field, while DeMarcus Ware leads by example as one of the best in the NFL. Witten said Tony Romo is “a great leader” in the way he works with the younger players.

I can’t really speak about those other players’ attitudes this year. Maybe they’ve got a different mindset, too. But it’s rather clear that Witten has cranked it up a notch. That’s definitely what a leader does.

On Twitter, Witten has nearly 144,000 followers. But with this attitude, there are 89 individuals at training camp who need to be following Witten in a different way.

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