Witten will use 'snub' as motivation

Being drafted by the National Football League in the third round would be a dream come true for most collegiate athletes.
   For former University of Tennessee TE Jason Witten however, it was a bitter disappointment.
   Expected by most prognosticators to go as high as round one, Witten fell to the 69th pick, where his fall was finally broken by coach Bill Parcells and the Dallas Cowboys.
   "We went with tight end in the third round and I've always been spoiled with that position," said Parcells, who coached Mark Bavaro with the Giants, along with Ben Coates in New England. "I think we might have gotten a quality player in Witten. We got a big, big fast guy who has shown a lot of ability. I hope he can come in here and contribute."
   For Witten his motivation will be proving to the teams that passed him over, that they made a big mistake.
   "Obviously there were teams that thought there were better players than me," said Witten. "It's going to be my goal to prove they made a mistake. I'm very frustrated right now, but I couldn't be going into a better situation. Coach Parcells is a great coach and I think he will be able to get the best out of me."
   For a big kid from a small town Witten has always demonstrated a strong work ethic, and even though he and his family were taken aback by the developments of Saturday afternoon it will not affect his confidence in himself.
   "I talked to the Colts during the first round and felt pretty good about that," Witten said. "And I was on the phone with Houston early in the second round, but they decided to go in another direction. This is just something I have to deal with, and my focus will be to go to Dallas and try to win a starting job. I will always have confidence in myself and confidence that with hard work comes good rewards."
   Witten - who was converted to TE from DE his freshman season - started 13 games in his junior season and had a standout year on a Volunteers squad decimated with injuries.
   Witten collected 39 receptions for 493 yards and five touchdowns, including that memorable touchdown in the sixth overtime to give UT a win over Arkansas, and Witten's receiving numbers were tops in the SEC by a tight end.
   Witten was also a consensus All-SEC pick, and University of Tennessee head coach Phillip Fulmer said in a pre-draft statement to STAR Staff reporter Matt Hill that, "If I had a football team that I was starting today, Jason Witten is one of the first guys that I would want for my team. That says volumes about him as a person, and his leadership and character. You could take a football team and build it around Jason Witten.
   "When I moved him to TE I saw the potential that was there. We don't have anybody on our football team right now that's even close to what he can do at (that position). But just about the time we were going to get the most out of him he decides to leave. You can't begrudge that, but I wish he hadn't."
   Why Witten fell so far is pure speculation, given that so many of the so-called 'experts' had him with a high grade, either the top or at worst the second best TE in the draft.
   But the variables of each NFL team, and it's needs, is something that is nearly impossible to factor into the equation to say substantially that it was any one thing that caused his stock to fall.
   "I think he's a first round pick," said Fulmer. "But that doesn't really hold much water. It's what the pros think that he is and the need that each team has."
   More likely it was simply the situation that dictated to each team who they should select, driven by each squads system and it's front office and scouting department's evaluation. But Witten seems ready to put disappointment behind him and get on with the task of becoming the best NFL player he can be.
   "When I got the call, coach Parcells said they had a first round grade on me," Witten commented. "In the first round Dallas had other needs to take care of, but coach said he felt lucky to get me where they did, and that he didn't care what pick I went. He just wants me to come in and get started on a strong note."
   For the Cowboys, Witten fills a need that the franchise has had since the retirement of Jay Novacek. Dallas drafted TE David LeFleur in the 1997 draft, but he did not pan out as expected and the Pokes have had a huge void there ever since, so Witten knows that he has a great opportunity in front of him.
   "Any time you come out of school early, you want to go first or early second round," said Witten. "But things happen for a reason and I have to take that outlook. It's the only attitude that I can have is just to look forward and realize that it's always been my dream to play in the NFL and what better team to go to than the Dallas Cowboys."
   If Witten uses the perceived snubs by Indianapolis and Houston as his motivation, he should do exceptionally well. The Cowboys system should fit him well as the 'Boys - and coach Parcells - love to utilize the tight end in a lot of different formations and create the types of mismatches that will enable Witten's athleticism to shine.
   Given that he is going to be in a TE friendly offense, Witten will be given the opportunity to put up numbers that match or exceed the numbers put up by the three TE prospects chosen ahead of him, and he will be content to let the numbers speak for him.
   "Everything happens for a reason," said Witten. "Now it's my job to make the best of it and do everything I can to make the Cowboys glad they picked me."
   Witten's grandfather and former head coach at EHS Dave Rider said, "Maybe (falling to round three) is the Good Lord's way of telling him that he just needs to work harder, and knowing Jason that's exactly what he'll do."