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May 19, 2014

Witten: New position coach is 'nit-picking' him, but that's OK because he's a tight ends guru

New tight ends coach Mike Pope is “nit-picking” with him, but Jason Witten said it’s for his own good.

“He’s been honest with me in trying to really push me to ‘Let’s even take this to another level,’ ” Witten said of his new coach, a 32-year veteran NFL assistant who started with the Giants under Bill Parcells in 1983 and was on the staff of all four of the franchise’s Super Bowl championship teams.

“I appreciate that challenge and the way he’s gone about it,” Witten said. “I know he’s kind of the guru of tight end coaches.”

Pope, speaking at the Cowboys’ rookie mini-camp last weekend, said Witten is an ideal model of habits for younger players, but that there are no “zero-defect” players.

“I’m excited, and he’s excited – he says he is, anyway; I don’t know him to be anything but truthful – but there are some areas that he’s hoping, and I believe, we can help him, with the years that I’ve been doing this with all different types of players,” Pope said. “So I’m looking forward to keeping him on an upward spiral and then bringing in Gavin Escobar and James Hanna along and fill in more of those spots with more production.”

Two years ago, Witten set an NFL record for catches in a single season by a tight end, with 110. Last year, his eight touchdown catches were his second-highest total for a single season.

“His picture of running a route is worth an hour of classroom for me, because that’s how you do it,” Pope said. He said the free agents and rookie tight ends were told last weekend, “Just look at that, and just simply be a mirror of that player, and you’ll be pretty close to right.”

Witten, who turned 32 on May 6, acknowledges he has less time ahead of him in his career than he does behind. But he says he still has room for improvement, which is what Pope wants.

“There’s always room to improve,” Witten said. “He’s nit-picking for sure, but that’s what I like about him.”

-- Carlos Mendez

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