OXNARD, Calif. – The comprehensive list of Jason Witten's milestones throughout his NFL career with the Cowboys is staggering.
That's what makes his comments about Dez Bryant so special.
He's watched the young receiver grow so much on and off the field the last few years and played such a significant role in that growth that watching what Bryant's become is something Witten could hold as dearly and remember as sincerely as those records he broke. Bryant's always admired Witten, and he's giving the tight end a lot of reasons to reciprocate that respect.
"That's probably one of the things I'm most proud of being a part of this team, is to see what he's grown into," Witten said. "Obviously as a player, he just became such a much better route runner, complete route runner. He understands coverages and where he needs to be."
What Bryant's done as a route runner at the professional level has also caught the eye of a quarterback who knew him from his college days at Oklahoma State and now gets to watch him again on a daily basis.
"He understands route progressions," said Brandon Weeden. "He understands sometimes he's not going to get the ball. He may be a decoy or whatever it may be, but he's turning into a complete receiver. He's kind of coming into his own."
Much of what Bryant's learned on the field and how to handle himself off it he attributed to Witten.
"Wit is one of my favorite, if not my favorite, people in this world," Bryant said. "He 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, and I don't know if I respect anybody as much as I respect Jason Witten."
The raw talent for Bryant has always been there, but there was a reason the Cowboys were able to get the college star all the way at No. 24 overall in 2010.
There's also a reason that choice by the Cowboys has turned out to be one of its best in recent history after some early speed bumps.
"He's somebody that I respect a lot," Witten said. "I'm just amazed to see how much he's grown as a football player and really as a man. It's pretty special to see, and he's a leader of this football team. He's one of the leaders." [embedded_ad]
Bryant and Witten have become the two top receiving threats on the Cowboys' offense and quarterback Tony Romo's favorite two targets. That was evident in training camp against the Raiders, when Witten brought the team down to the goal line and Bryant's patented back shoulder fade ended in points.
Witten's had at least 70 catches and 800 receiving yards each of the past seven seasons, while Bryant's quickly vaulted himself into the elite category, with 90 catches, 1,200 yards and double-digit touchdowns each of the past two seasons.
Even though Bryant's numbers surpassed Witten's recently, he's still entranced by the veteran tight end.
"It's amazing the way that he moves," Bryant said. "I can't believe it. He's big, and like, he's real shifty. He can get 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.
"He's been good to me since I've been here. He's been very helpful. I can't thank him enough. I think that's the wrong word to use when I speak on him. I don't know what to say. He's just been amazing."
Witten shares the same admiration for the young receiver who looks up to him and has quickly become one of the best young talents in the game.
"Obviously, he's a freak of talent and the ability to go get the ball is unlike anything I've ever seen," Witten said. "But we've had times where it's been competitive and heated and that's good. I think that there's been times where there's trust and commitment. That's a relationship that we've developed over four years, through a lot of hard work and a lot of success and a lot of adversity."