FRISCO, Texas – More than anyone, Jason Witten understands the NFL is a "show-me game."
The Cowboys' all-time receiving leader doesn't expect to be handed anything after a season away on temporary retirement. With promising young tight ends on the roster, it's entirely possible he won't duplicate his playing time from 2017: 98.4 percent of the offense's total snaps that season.
"It certainly will be different," Witten said Wednesday following the Cowboys' second OTA (organized team activities) practice of the week. "Not just in my case – I think any competitor, when you're not on the football field, that's a challenge. I would be crazy if I think that wouldn't be a challenge.
"There's a lot of questions out there about me, too, and I'm anxious to go prove that I can play. But I also know that may not include every play and every snap. Certainly that's been talked about."
To be clear, roles haven't been decided during these first two weeks of OTAs. Witten and select veterans are being held out of the Wednesday practices, the middle practice in sets of three per week during this three-week OTA period.
There's plenty of offseason left to complete.
And Witten, a likely Hall of Famer once he's done playing for good, intends to compete.
"They'll make those decisions," Witten said, referring to Jason Garrett and the coaching staff. "Those coaches work long hours, they're smart. Obviously I've got a lot of respect for Jason and the program that he's built here and who he is as a man and as a coach. That will all work itself. I can't worry about how that plays out.
"My job is kind of make it tough on them. We all benefit if that's the case."
The Cowboys would expect nothing less from the man who has made 11 Pro Bowls in 15 seasons, who has a 20-foot mural hanging outside the locker room because he's been the picture of work ethic and toughness throughout his career.
Make no mistake: Now 37 years old, Witten wants to empower the young leaders on the team. He emphasized that this spring when he came back after 10 months in the ESPN Monday Night Football booth.
"These guys earned that. For me, I just wanted to come in and be one of the guys," he said. "I wanted those guys to know that."
But Witten wouldn't have come back without a full commitment to being his best, and in the process, pushing others to be their best.
He believes he can do both in Year 16.
"My game's never been built on speed. When I was 20 years old and got drafted here, they said, 'He's not real fast,'" he said. "So it's all about the fundamentals and the techniques to how you play this position. I've got a lot of confidence in my time on task in this system and what allows you to be successful."