FRISCO, Texas – When rookie tight end Dalton Schultz met with the Cowboys' equipment staff to go over jersey number possibilities, one in particular was not available: 82.
"No, they made that really clear," he said with a smile.
Schultz, a fourth-round draft pick out of Stanford, currently plans to wear No. 86.
Not that he was aiming for Jason Witten's iconic 82. Standing just down the hall from Witten's 20-foot wall mural inside The Star in Frisco, Schultz is well aware and respectful of Witten's legacy. The 15-year tight end retired from the NFL a week ago to join ESPN's Monday Night Football booth.
The Cowboys don't expect Schultz, or any tight end on this year's roster, to be Witten. No one can replace everything that the likely future Hall of Famer brought to the organization.
What Schultz has done, long before getting drafted by Dallas in late April, is study Witten's game. Carefully and meticulously.
The Stanford program asks its tight ends to be complete players, not just pass-catchers. There are philosophical similarities to the Cowboys' scheme, which makes Witten an ideal template for playing the position.
"I thought he was the most complete tight end in the NFL," Schultz said, "especially breaking him down and watching what he was able to do, not only in-line but man-to-man routes. People always (say) he's not the quickest guy. I think he's deceptively quick, especially when you're out there watching him, people don't know.
"But to see the nuance and his route-running ability and how he gets open and how smooth he is as an athlete, was something that jumped out at me right away in film. I've tried to take as much as I could over my college career especially, picking out little things, whether it be run-blocking or route running, to kind of help implement into my game."
Schultz is joining three veteran tight ends on the roster: Geoff Swaim, Blake Jarwin and Rico Gathers. Only Swaim (9 receptions) has caught a regular-season pass.
The post-Witten rotation will sort itself out this offseason. In the meantime, Schultz will try to apply what he's learned from Witten on tape.
"I definitely looked up to him as a mentor growing up and tried to emulate him as best as I can," he said.