excellent blocker, and he's working at it all the time."
In Witten's first three seasons, he was the "second" tight end. Dan Campbell came from the Giants to be, initially, the starter and certainly the blocker. How does today's Witten compare to the Campbell who was brought to Dallas to block?
"They're different styles," says Sparano. "Danny was more reckless as a blocker because it was more natural to him. Jason is a little more aware of technique because he had to be, but it's made him a better player."
Former Cowboys' Hall of Fame quarterback Troy Aikman believes the tight end position is more populated with talent today than was the case when he played. "When Jay (Novacek) retired, everyone said, 'Well, they're just going to have to go get another one.' I thought that was comical because there weren't any like him. He was special for our team. But I can name you about 11 guys right now who are difference-makers for their teams at tight end. As someone who had a special appreciation for that position, I pay extra attention to it."
Who does Aikman think are the best in the business? "Tough question. Antonio Gates (San Diego), Jason Witten, Dallas Clark (Indianapolis). They're probably at the top, but there are a lot of good ones."
It might not surprise you that Witten's coaches prefer their man. Says Garrett, "He's in the conversation right now with the rest of those guys, and he's going to be a better blocker. He's a special kid."
Which is not to say Witten can't improve, and Garrett has the specifics. "Jason knows these things," Garrett begins. "He can improve his footwork in the running game. He can get more out of run after catch. He can learn how to better split two defenders, how to avoid one blocker with a stiff-arm or a rip, what to do on the sideline against certain moves. But it's pretty good to think he has that much more upside as good as he already is."
Witten has grown appreciably in more ways than just as a player. He was the youngest in the league when he left Tennessee. Still only 25, Witten is now a three-time all-star, and a husband and father. Still humble, he now also lets you see the confident side.
"I need consistency," Witten says. "The kind of game I had against New York I need to have nine or 10 times a year. I'm still a little under the radar and I like it that way."
Ask Witten who he thinks is the best tight end in the NFL, because you know he's too humble to answer with his own name. "I don't know," he says, shifting uncomfortably in his chair. "Gates, I guess." And do you think Antonio Gates is better than you? A little grin, and Witten says, "No."
This is a much different player than the man Parcells challenged as "a RECEIVING tight end." He's now a team leader, and he embraces the role.
"There's always a time and a place," he says. "Your second year is not the time. Last year I think I earned the respect of the other guys. And Wade has let the players know this is our team. No one is going to hold our hands. We're going to have to take control."
So Jason Witten is. He just bought new chairs for the tight ends' meeting room. "The old ones were bad. Tough on your back," he says. "It seemed like a nice thing to do."
It seems like something a leader does, and a complete player. No one will call Jason Witten just a receiving tight end any time soon. They may just call him the best.