FRISCO, Texas – The best tight end in Cowboys history, and certainly one of the best to ever play the position in the NFL, was back in the building Saturday afternoon.
And he'll be in the house Monday night when eh Cowboys and Titans square off at AT&T Stadium.
But unlike the previous 15 seasons, Jason Witten won't be able to help the Cowboys on the field. Ironically enough, they could likely use him more than ever as projected starter Geoff Swaim will be out with a knee injury.
But the Cowboys don't need an injury at the tight end position to miss what Witten brought to the team, both in experience, leadership, intensity and outright skill.
All of those traits and more are helping Witten now in his new profession as he transitions into the broadcast booth as part of the Monday Night Football crew that will call the game this week.
Like he does for every game, Witten visits the home team the Saturday before, which brought him back to the facility this weekend as he met with many of his former coaches and teammates.
On Friday, Witten was on a conference call with the Dallas-Fort Worth media and shared thoughts on many topics, ranging from his emotions of returning this weekend, the process of becoming an analyst and even his thoughts on the trade to land Amari Cooper.
What will it be like to see the players and coaches you've worked so closely with over the year, but in a different role?
Witten: I'm excited to be back. It comes at a perfect time. It's Week 9 for us, but halfway point and a little bit of a homecoming. It will certainly be emotional for me. Why would it be after 15 years and so many relationships inside that building with fans and teammates and management and coaches and all that stuff. It'll certainly be emotional but I'm excited to come back and be in this situation that I am with ESPN. Look forward to seeing you guys (media).
When the schedule came out, did you immediately circle this game on your calendar?
Witten: I remember when Tony came back (to broadcast games for CBS) and how much attention was put on that. I don't know what I thought I would expect. Like anything, you don't really think about it until it kind of sneaks up on you. I knew just from my family and people coming in for the game and being able to stay home this week and all that. I hadn't had a chance to really kind of put a lot of those thoughts. I think that's why when I made the decision back in May, why I put so much time into it, was because I knew once I did I wasn't going to allow myself or was going to try really hard not to get to the emotions of it all. Will it be different? Absolutely. Will be it be awkward going into that stadium? Of course it will be. I'm excited to be there. As I said, more just because of the relationships that I was able to form and still have to this day with people inside that building.
What are some of the challenges that have come with this transition into the booth?
Witten: Having the self-confidence to be self-critical is something I've always thrived in and allowed me to improve when I played so I try to attack it that same way. Learning the logistics and the flow of a game and three guys and when do you get in, when do you get out and how does that all play out … I think that's just experiences. You can practice all you want, you can make up mock games and work on your voice and how you want to explain certain things but when it happens in real time you have to draw off of those experiences. I would say the last five games I feel like as a whole, 'ok, I'm starting to see more of myself and how I see ball or the conversations we have as a group.
You've had your share of criticism here already about your broadcasting career. How do you handle that?
Witten; I really feel like, even though you hear the noise and anybody who says they don't they're probably not telling the truth. I don't allow it to effect me because I feel like I'm going to be my own worst critic in those situations. So when I say 'pull a rabbit out of his head' instead of rabbit out of his hat well obviously I wasn't trying to say head. But all you can do is self-deprecate and move forward. I'm not going to be perfect but I think over time if you listen, you win them over by saying, 'man, the guy is sharing a lot of football with us that we didn't necessarily know.' As a group they do it in a different way, meaning they do it in an entertaining way. I believe in myself. I believe I'll be good at it. You just try to eliminate the mistakes and until you do there's always going to be a criticism.
What are your thoughts on the addition of Amari Cooper to the Cowboys?
Witten: I'm excited to see how it all fits. I'm on record saying I like what Dallas did with this trade. What I mean by that is certainly all the things for the future, he's 24 years old. I think if you get a guy that young and be able to have the future with him, it looks good for Dallas. How he wins on first and second down, I do think he'll be a big weapon on third down and with ways teams are playing Dallas, getting that eighth guy in the box, it creates one on ones on the outside. You know, Gallup has showed it at times here lately and Amari will just bring that presence. It seems like being where you're supposed to be when you're supposed to be there, that's Jason's saying a lot of times… That presence of knowing hey on his fourth outside step, he's going to wrap it in there and be right in that spot, I think that takes a lot of pressure off everybody else knowing he can do that and win in those situations. Not that other guys couldn't but I think he can bring a little more consistency with outside receivers.