After following Jon Gruden into the “Monday Night Football” booth didn’t work out as well as Jason Witten expected, the veteran tight end hopes playing for Gruden leads to more success.
Witten made the move to Las Vegas this offseason to join the Raiders following 16 seasons with Dallas interrupted by the one year in the ESPN booth.
“I’m invigorated by this challenge and where I’m at in my career,” Witten said Monday. “It made a lot of sense from the fit, the role and the presence that I could have. I didn’t really overthink it and it’s just a great opportunity to go in there and compete and I’m very fortunate for that, and I’ll challenge myself to play at a high level even where my age is and it’s been a lot of fun for me.”
The 38-year-old Witten pointed to the success Gruden had with older players in his first stint with the Raiders when players like Jerry Rice, Rich Gannon, Albert Lewis and Eric Allen all had late-career revivals.
Witten knows he was signed almost as much for his veteran presence as his on-field contributions that have him fourth in NFL history in receptions with 1,215, trailing only Rice, Larry Fitzgerald and Tony Gonzalez.
“So much of the tight end position is kind of all of the little nuances that go into allowing you to be successful in the run game, pass protection and route running,” he said. “I’ve been fortunate to stay healthy and find ways to be savvy enough to still have an edge to you. So, just be there to share my experiences, certainly on the field, communicate as a veteran player and whatever that role evolves to.”
Witten is filling that role by addressing the team at a meeting last week and serving as a good example in practice with his preparation.
Even though he joked that he has only mastered the first 1,000 pages of Gruden’s playbook and still has about 9,000 to go, Witten is already up to speed.
“Jon has done a couple of walkthroughs and drills where he tried to just throw multiple formations at Witten and multiple shifts and motions to see where he was at, and there were no mental errors on Jason’s part,” offensive coordinator Greg Olson said. “So a true pro.”
Witten joins a crowded tight end room for the Raiders led by last year’s breakout star Darren Waller, who was second in among NFL tight ends last season with 1,145 yards receiving on 90 catches.
Foster Moreau added five TD catches as a rookie before missing the final three games with a knee injury and the versatile Derek Carrier also is in the mix.
When the Cowboys decided not to pursue Witten this offseason, the Raiders made their move with a one-year contract worth a guaranteed $4 million.
How much he can add as a receiver remains to be seen. He had 63 catches for 529 yards last season in his return from the failed one-year hiatus as a analyst for ESPN, averaging a career-low 8.4 yards per reception.
There’s not much history of tight ends thriving at Witten’s age. Only two tight ends who began the season at age 38 or older since the merger have ever caught even a single pass with Antonio Gates having 28 in 2018 and Benjamin Watson recording 17 last season.
“I knew I wanted to play,” he said. “I felt like I could come back and with he right fit and with the right role, could still help a team win some games. That’s when the Raiders became available and I’m just really excited to be here and kind of dive in with this talented team. It’s a really talented roster, it’s young, and I’m going to come in and be a veteran for them. It’s been off to a good start, we have a lot of work to do.”
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