IRVING, Texas - After finishing 8-8 three straight seasons, the Cowboys were able to finally get over the proverbial hump last year and not only record a 12-4 mark, but make it to the second round of the playoffs.
Veteran tight end Jason Witten, the longest-tenured player on this team other than Tony Romo, enters his 13th pro season knowing that many Cowboys fans are ready for this team to build upon last year's success and perhaps make an even deeper playoff run in 2015.
For Witten, he's just focused on getting over that hump yet again.
Now don't mistake that for Witten not setting his sights sky-high once again. But he also knows that expecting to get back to the playoffs just because this team made it last year is naïve. Look no further than 2008 and 2010 for proof.
The Cowboys went 13-3 in 2007 and were Super Bowl favorites the following year, only to finish 9-7 and miss the playoffs. In 2010, following an 11-5 season that included the team's first playoff win in 16 years, the Cowboys went 6-10 and saw their head coach fired in midseason.
So Witten knows firsthand the approach to 2015 has to be no different than last year.
"To us, I think it's easier for (media) to say 'they're building on something.'" Witten said. "But you don't build, you start over. You go do it again. When it's 8-8, you start over. When you're 12-4, you have to go back and start over again. I think the teams that have done a really good job with Coach Garrett's message and our guys with the way we work that we're going to go prove it and get better."
The Cowboys won their first playoff game in five years and just the second overall since 1996. And while they nearly knocked off the Packers in Lambeau Field in the NFC Divisional Round, Witten said being overly optimistic heading into this year can be dangerous.
"I don't think we're satisfied making the second round of the playoffs," Witten said. "To me, it's the same approach and mindset when you're 8-8 and come up short. We have to get better. That's what this team has done a really good job of – starting new, going out there and competing and in those two-minute drills, it's competition at every position."
Now maybe not every position, including the starting tight end spot, which Witten has manned since halfway through his rookie season in 2003. But even though it's the longest of longshots to think anyone will unseat Witten of his starting post, he's still seems to be hungrier than ever. And that desire doesn't begin as the season gets close or training camp starts, but now in this second week of OTA practices.
"We have to go do it. We have to go prove it," Witten said. "That's what makes this time fun."
One of the team leaders, Witten also seems confident he'll have plenty of help in that department. In fact, Witten complimented the locker room with as much as leadership and chemistry as he's seen, maybe in his entire career.
"This is as strong of a locker room as I've ever been a part of and I think it all positions, it's a close group that works together and has fun playing together and competes," Witten said. "We're all for one and that's the mentality. We have a lot of guys that have played at high levels for a long time with consistency in this league. We have young players that have emerged as some of the better players at their position. The way they work and prepare it's a great example. I just think there's really strong leadership right now."
And what those leaders are focused less on building on last year, and more starting from scratch.