Jones wants Cowboys to be more than average again

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Jerry Jones opened training camp for the Dallas Cowboys enthusiastically talking about wanting to return to the team's glory days.

With quarterback Tony Romo coming off arguably his best season and DeMarcus Ware still one of the league's premier linebackers, there certainly is some reason for Jones to again be optimistic.

But there is also the harsh reality. Even with Romo, Ware and Jason Witten being standouts over an extended period, the Cowboys overall have been distinctly average since winning three Super Bowl championships in a four-year span in the first half of the 1990s, early in Jones' ownership.

''They've tasted a lot of disappointment,'' Jones said.

Take the end of last season, when Dallas and the New York Giants both were 8-7 going into their regular-season finale to determine the NFC East champion and the league's final playoff spot. The Giants won 31-14, then went on to win their second Super Bowl in five seasons.

''I can without any stretch of imagination see where we could have been where the Giants were as far as getting into the (playoffs) and then turning around and having some of that success,'' Jones said. ''That's not hard for me to reach there.''

The Cowboys and coach Jason Garrett could get an early indication if things can be different this season.

After playing the final regular-season game in 2011, the Cowboys and Giants also play the first one of 2012. Their unprecedented Wednesday night opener next week is again in New Jersey.

''I'm excited about having the opportunity to go back to that position to play the team that obviously ended up winning the Super Bowl,'' Romo said. ''There is motivation to have a great season this year, there is motivation to accomplish certain goals that you set out that you haven't yet. Each time you step out here that is what you are thinking about.''

Since Romo took over as the starting quarterback midway through the 2006 season, the Cowboys have only one playoff victory.

That is their only postseason victory the past 15 seasons, when their overall record was 120-120. They have now missed the playoffs in consecutive seasons for the first time with Romo, who threw for 4,184 yards with 31 touchdowns and 10 interceptions last season.

The Cowboys tried with their offseason moves to provide better protection for Romo, who is 47-30 as a starter, and to get Ware some help on the back end.

Rob Ryan's defense was bolstered with several additions, primarily two new cornerbacks. After signing $50 million free agent Brandon Carr, the Cowboys traded their second-round draft pick, moved up eight spots and got Morris Claiborne sixth overall.

''Having Brandon Carr come in, Morris Claiborne, all those guys back there, that's going to increase a little more time for you, and to get a little bit more pressure on the quarterback,'' said Ware, the six-time Pro Bowler whose 19 1/2 sacks last season pushed his career total to 99 1/2. ''We are going to be a defense to be reckoned with.''

On the offensive side, veteran free agent guards Mackenzy Bernadeau and Nate Livings both got multiyear deals to be starters and make the Cowboys bigger in the middle of the line. Both have dealt with injuries, with Bernadeau missing the entire offseason after hip and knee surgeries.

The starting tackles from last season switched sides. Tyron Smith moved to the left as Romo's blind-side protector after starting all 16 games as a 20-year-old rookie on the right side, where Doug Free returned. Running back DeMarco Murray is healthy after rushing for a team-high 897 yards before missing the final three games with a broken right ankle. He could combine with Felix Jones for a nice 1-2 running punch, and Dallas also added veteran fullback Lawrence Vickers.

Witten, the perennial Pro Bowl tight end going into his 10th season, sustained a lacerated spleen in the preseason opener and his status for the start of the season was uncertain.

Also pressing is finding a No. 3 receiver behind Miles Austin and Dez Bryant, especially because Austin hurt his hamstring again after missing six games last season because of problems with both hamstrings. Laurent Robinson had 11 TDs last season in his only season with Romo, and converted that into a big free-agent deal with Jacksonville.

Without making a move before this season, like they did a year ago with Robinson, Dallas will depend one of its young receivers in that role.

Even though he took over as head coach midway through the 2010 season, this is the first time Garrett has had a full normal offseason. After Garrett's first half-season in charge, the NFL lockout wiped out all offseason workouts in 2011. Not having that summer work also affected then new-defensive coordinator Ryan installing his complicated 3-4 schemes.

The defense was significantly improved under Ryan, but there were five blown fourth-quarter leads.

''We realize what happened last year,'' Ryan said. ''We were the reason we didn't get to the playoffs. ... We are looking forward to changing that.''


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Tagged: Cowboys, Giants, Jason Witten, Tony Romo, DeMarcus Ware, Doug Free, Felix Jones, Brandon Carr, Morris Claiborne

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