FRISCO, Texas – Jason Witten has been around Tony Romo since both were in Dak Prescott's position – rookies trying to earn trust on the field.
Thirteen years later, Romo is a four-time Pro Bowler with 127 career starts. Due to a fractured bone in his back, it's uncertain when exactly he'll make his first start this season.
Witten knows him as well as anybody, and there's no doubt in his mind the veteran quarterback will overcome his latest injury.
"There's only two or three people on this planet that have the skill set that Tony has to perform and execute that position, that level," Witten said Monday. "I think for all of us as competitive players – for myself, for this team trying to build a team that can be competitive and compete for a championship, as a teammate, as a friend, it's a setback on its face. It hurts.
"But I've been around this league for a long time and there's been a lot of people I've observed and had relationships, and none greater than the relationship with Tony. I do know this: I don't believe in anybody more than him. I know what he's about. So this setback is just that. He'll do everything to come back. I know that, this team knows that. We believe in him."
The Cowboys haven't set an official timetable for Romo's injury, but they expect him to return this season.
Witten has watched Romo endure multiple injuries throughout his career, most recently two separate collarbone fractures last season that sidelined him for 12 of 16 games.
He had a productive offseason and entered training camp healthy, but the force of the sack he took from Seattle's Cliff Avril last Thursday on the third play from scrimmage caused an injury unrelated to the back issues he has dealt with intermittently since 2013.
"It's a setback. That's what pro football's all about," Witten said. "There's been people along the way over the last 13 years that have bet against him, and quite honestly, they're not around this league because he's answered the bell every step of the way. I don't hesitate for one second knowing that he's going to do the same thing with this injury."
"People are going to bet against him – that's fine. And I don't think that's unfair to do so, but if you know what he's about – which, everybody in this building does – he's going to be back sooner than probably expected, and he'll play better than anybody ever thought he would."
For now, the Cowboys will move forward with Prescott as the fill-in starter. Witten, who caught a touchdown pass from the rookie last Thursday, has been impressed with his approach.
"As a veteran, when a young player comes in here you want to show him the ropes but you also want him to earn that," Witten said. "He's earned it fairly quickly, and not because he's been thrown into a situation – just because every opportunity he's answered it, and when he hasn't, he's accountable for it and moves on.
"In the huddle he's good. In meetings he's good. Obviously his ability to make plays on the field has been really good. I'm proud of him for that and I think he'll continue to build on that."