FORT WORTH –When a team has finished three straight seasons with not only the same identical 8-8 record, but also losing the season-finale to a rival with a chance to win the division each year, it's only natural for people to think things will eventually turn in their favor.
*This has to be our year, right? *
Jason Witten doesn't think that way. He doesn't want his teammates thinking it either.
Speaking after a community event at Albertson's in Fort Worth where he went on a shopping spree scavenger hunt with local kids to stress the importance of eating healthy, Witten stressed the importance of embracing the new season and new challenges.
"I think, collectively, you can't have the mindset, 'this is the year we get over the hump.' No one is going to give it to you. We've seen that," Witten said "Each year is different. Whether it's the Giants in a road game, obviously this year Tony wasn't there and we're playing at home without our starting quarterback. There're different challenges that get you to that point."
This year, Witten said it wasn't easy to see fellow teammates such as Miles Austin and DeMarcus Ware walk out the Valley Ranch door. But from someone who has repeatedly said, "things have to change," he also understands the process.
"From one side, you understand when you're 8-8, there's going to be changes," Witten said. "That's just football. This year more than ever, it was challenging as an individual because you saw some good players and good teammates that you did a lot of work with, a lot laughs, a lot of cries and a lot of sweat – you look at guys like Miles and DeMarcus – they embraced what the Cowboys' star is about for a long time. They're some of the best to do what they did.
"So when you lose those type of guys that you've gone through so much with, it's always tough, but at the same time, I think it provides perspective to what needs to happen for us to get over the hump. The time is now. We understand that. We need to embrace that role."
Like every year, getting off to a good start is vital, but with the latest schedule, which features four tough road night games on the slate, including three of them against division teams, it's even more important in 2014. [embedded_ad]
"I think the big picture of being good early in the season and middle of the season when teams start to filter away, being able to embrace that so you can stack wins up and play your best football at the end of the year," Witten said. "That's our focus. We can't really talk about it. We understand that everyone is probably counting on us to be 8-8 all over again. This group of guys, knowing we have to work and give ourselves the best chance to be successful. I'm excited about that, it's a great group."
Witten is one of the team leaders on the field during this week's start to the offseason-conditioning program. Coaches are not allowed to have contact on the field with players, which leave guys like Witten out there calling the shots.
It's far from an actual practice, as there is more running and conditioning than actual drills, but someone has to lead the way, and who better than Witten, who enters his 12th season with the team.
"It's great to have the players running those workouts. It's your team for a little bit," Witten said. "There are some good leaders able to carry that. It's awesome. To do it collectively – I call it the state-of-the-union – to have that team meeting and embrace 2014, it's what we're going to do and how we're going to do it. It's always a neat time to have those few times to get away from it and then come back and embark on it again."
While so much is made of the teams that win games in December and January, Witten said he believes it all starts in April and May.
"I believe the teams that are competing in December and January, a big part of that is how their training camp goes and their offseason work. I think it's critical in our development of our football team," Witten said. "I'm excited. I think it's a great time when we come back and get together."