Jason Witten talks 'Monday Night Football': Same game, different approach for former TE

Night net null For the first time in 15 years, Jason Witten is not taking the field for the Cowboys in 2018. The future Pro Football Hall of Famer retired from America's Team to be part of ESPN's new broadcast team for the 49th season of "Monday Night Football."Taking over for Jon Gruden as the telecast's color commentator, Witten has a big microphone to fill. He is joined by new play-by-play voice Joe Tessitore and field-level analyst Booger McFarland.Before Witten made his MNF debut calling the Rams-Raiders game in Week 1, he talked to Sporting News about the gig and his "other" post-playing job. SN: What's it like going into Week 1 and not needing to get ready to play in a game?Witten: I tell you what, my body feels a heck of a lot better. It's certainly a big change as the whole offseason has been different for me. I'm excited; it's a challenge. I've approached this new opportunity much like I did when I was playing. I was of the mindset that I'm going to dive in headfirst, trying to learn and grow, do the job as best as I can.The competition, the feeling in the locker room — that's real. Not having that is really different, but I love the game. I'm excited to stay around it with new perspective on all the knowledge and experience from playing on Monday night.SN: How have you changed your approach to watching film and preparing for games in that way now?Witten: You got into this knowing it's a different type of competition. Your mindset as a player is strictly strategic and fundamental, looking at the technique that's going to allow you to win. You're removed from that, so there's the emotional side you don't necessarily feel anymore. You're nervous and want to do a good job as far as the broadcast and enjoy the camaraderie, but now you get a broader view of the league. When you play, you just have such a narrow focus — tunnel vision like horses do in the Kentucky Derby. All you're thinking about is the guy right across from you.It's been interesting to me to have to pull back and take a bird's-eye view of the entire league, how I think it's going to unfold.AFTER FURTHER REVIEW:Rodgers teaches lesson, more from Week 1SN: What did you learn from your former Cowboys quarterback and good friend Tony Romo in making the transition coming off his great first season with CBS?Witten: The success that Tony had, it was his personality — that's who he is. He and Jim Nantz have such great chemistry. The one trait that stands out about Tony, and we share this — and a big reason I'll be standing on Monday night — is that we love football. Tony did a great job with forecasting the plays, but what stuck out to me was the unbelievable amount of energy, positive energy. He wasn't trying to ignore the fan at home. It was emotional and very entertaining. His excitement that he brought, you can see the fans responded well.It's more being comfortable with what you want to do. It's different than what goes into being a very good player. Listening to analysts, I can't really define what that is, but it's about being digestable and just an awesome listen. That's what I'm trying to capture. I know it's going to take a lot of work and take a lot of time. That's what Tony shared with me more than anything else — stay in your lane, find your zone and just stay locked into the game from the best seat in the house.SN: What was it like when you found you were working with Joe and Booger, and how have you all clicked so quickly before your first regular-season game?Witten: The chemistry and connection is such a big part of this, and I felt that immediately. That's why I've been excited to have this job, because of that chemistry. In football, some say winning games is all that matters and you expect the chemistry to come with it. I don't agree with that. You need to like and respect the guy who's playing beside you, and you have to appreciate the hard work that needs to be done. In the booth, it's the same thing. Fans can feel tension, selfishness or anything like that.Although Joe and Booger have a lot more experience than I do in broadcasting, it's new for them, too, going to Monday night. For all of us being kind of new, it's nice to kind of jump in it together. It's a great group of guys with a team-first mentality. That's made it very enjoyable and hopefully that transfers well to the telecast.WEEK 1 Night net HIGHLIGHTS:Top catches | Top runs | Top rookie playsSN: Growing up, watching "Monday Night Fooball," hearing all the great announcers, did you ever imagine you would be on the same stage of those guys and have the responsibility of carrying that show?Witten: I'm so honored and humbled by this opportunity. You think about all those big names, and I think, 'My gosh.' That's a big reason while I'll be standing. You can't fill those shoes, when you think of those guys who have been in there in huge situations as analysts. These are voices we've heard over the past three, four, five decades. It's just 

incredible the jobs that they did. Now I have that opportunity to carry that vision and what they've built.You can't match what they've done — you really can't. I would be foolish to try to do that. I will be trying to my damnest to make everyone proud. That's how I tried to play throughout my career in Dallas. I realize how good some of those guys were. I grew up in a football family. My grandfather was my high school football coach and he would watch it every Monday night. He was a big fan of Don Meredith and John Madden, and the list goes on and on. They were able to teach, entertain, have fun and weren't afraid to criticize when they needed to do so. Hopefully I can carry on that tradition.SN: So, in addition to broadcasting, it looks like you have a second new "job" with Miller Lite?Witten: That was a lot of fun. I partnered with Miller Lite, and we surprised loyal fans with a delivery to kick off the football season. You can imagine — these guys don't really know what they're in for, and I show up as a delivery man. And I've got to say, I kind of look the part. The looks on their faces is awesome.My Sundays are free now, I was looking to fill a little bit of time, and Miller Lite gave me a great opportunity to celebrate the fans and the game. Those fans were really excited to be a part of it.