NFL Wire News

NFC East camp preview: Cowboys feel primed for title run


The Sports Xchange

OXNARD, Calif. — Nobody expected the Dallas Cowboys to be considered Super Bowl contenders a year ago.

Heck, most expected them to finish 8-8 or worse and for head coach Jason Garrett to be fired at the end of the season.

Of course, that was before the Cowboys became one of the surprising breakthrough stories of 2014, finishing with a 12-4 record, winning the NFC East and coming within a controversial non-catch by receiver Dez Bryant of reaching the NFC title game for the first time since 1995, the last time they won the Super Bowl.

It comes as no surprise that the Cowboys are considered prime Super Bowl contenders before the 2015 season. They remain the best team in the NFC East and they have ranked just behind the Seattle Seahawks and Green Bay Packers as the cream of the conference.

The Cowboys didn’t care what outsiders thought last year and they don’t care this year.

They will open training camp this week with the Super Bowl as their goal, but with the primary focus of defining themselves for themselves just as they did a year ago.

“Any coach or player or staff member, if you don’t have the goal of winning the Super Bowl you are in the wrong profession,” Garrett said. “Everybody has that goal. We define ourselves by what we do. We did that last year. We have to do that again this year. Everybody will understand that really well.

“Don’t let other people define you. We define ourselves by what we do. When I did this press conference a year ago, we were probably regarded as a bottom-five or bottom-10 team in the league. One of the best things our team did last year was that we defined ourselves. We didn’t listen to any outside forces who said we weren’t this or we weren’t that. We just went to work every day. We have to do that again. They might think differently of us this year. It really doesn’t matter. We define ourselves by what we do. That starts (Tuesday).”

Still there is no question that the Super Bowl is the Cowboys’ goal after last season’s coming of age campaign and an offseason in which they accomplished almost everything they wanted, save for the acquisition of Vikings running back Adrian Peterson in a trade.

But no one gets everything.

The Cowboys are still on the hunt for a starting running back but every other thing they tried came up roses.

The top priority was retaining Bryant and making him happy. He was signed to a five-year, $70 million contract two weeks ago, ending his threats to boycott the season and putting him on the field for training camp.

“To get him signed and ready to go to start camp is exciting,” Garrett said in his first comments since the signing. “He is a great football player but more important he is a great teammate. He is passionate about the game. He is passionate about the team, his teammates. We are excited to see him out there.”

Garrett is also happy to avoid the distracting story line of what a Bryant holdout would have brought to training camp.

“I don’t think anyone wants those types of things,” Garrett said. “You don’t want holdouts. You don’t want the business of the NFL to creep in as you get close to the season. The business is real. You have to take the emotions out of it. But it’s fun to have him back. It’s fun to have in him in the fold and on the practice field as we start training camp.”

Quarterback Tony Romo had his first healthy offseason in three years and will head into training camp 100 percent for the first time since 2012.

The best offensive line in the NFL got even better with the addition of La’el Collins, an undrafted rookie free agent with first-round talent who could start at left guard.

The defense should be better because of the return of linebacker Sean Lee from injury and the additions of defensive ends Greg Hardy and Randy Gregory and cornerback Byron Jones in the draft and free agency.

The Cowboys got a win when Hardy’s NFL suspension for violating the league’s personal conduct policy was reduced from 10 games to four.

Cornerback Morris Claiborne, who has been a disappointment since coming to the team with the sixth overall pick in 2012, is also a source of optimism because of a successful return from knee surgery that might allow the Cowboys to play Jones at safety.

“It’s all about the production on the field,” executive vice president Stephen Jones said in affirming the team’s highly productive offseason. “We obviously feel like we got a lot accomplished. We theoretically got done what we felt like we needed to do to make our team better and take the next step. Now we’ll see if it happens.”


July 28: Team reports

July 30: First practice

Aug. 17-18: Joint practices with Rams in Oxnard

Aug. 28: Camp ends

–Team strength: Offensive line.

The Cowboys’ offensive line was considered the best in the NFL last year when it placed three players in the Pro Bowl: left tackle Tyron Smith, center Travis Frederick and right guard Zack Martin. They return their entire unit from a year ago while also adding a first-round talent in undrafted rookie free agent La’el Collins, who was considered a top 15 pick before questions about the murder of an ex-girlfriend made him untouchable. Once cleared, Collins signed with the Cowboys and could replace Ron Leary at left guard.

–Breakout player: Defensive tackle Tyrone Crawford.

Crawford had a nice bounce-back season last year after missing the 2013 campaign with a torn Achilles. He replaced Henry Melton in the starting lineup at defensive tackle, recording 33 tackles and three sacks. The Cowboys expect marked improvement in 2015 as Crawford gets more comfortable at defensive tackle. He played defensive end his first two years in the league. He had 37 hurries last year so he has talent to rush up the middle. The key in 2015 is for him to finish those hurries with sacks.

–Work in progress: Running back.

The Cowboys have yet to find a replacement for the departed DeMarco Murray. Joseph Randle and Darren McFadden are the most likely starters at this point. But the team doesn’t trust the speedy Randle, who has yet to carry a full load for a full season. McFadden has been injured almost every year and averaged less than four yards per carry the past three seasons with Oakland.

The Cowboys also have no one to get the tough yards in short-yardage situations. They will be looking for options throughout training camp.

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