Jones wants Cowboys to be more than average again

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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