It's expected to be 69 degrees when the Cowboys reach Oxnard, Calif.,. The team has a new defensive scheme and offensive play caller. Before training camp breaks , the Cowboys will practice 38 times to help determine the fate of the 2013-2014 Dallas Cowboys.
Let’s examine the Dallas Cowboys most pressing questions …
OFFENSIVE LINE: The Cowboys need dramatic improvement on the offensive line to break away from two consecutive 8-8 seasons. Left tackle Tyron Smith has a chance to be dominant. He is strong, persistent and determined to get better. He has Pro Bowl potential. Right tackle Doug Free’s 2012 performance led to sharing time with Jermey Parnell. Free took a pay cut to remain with the team. The interior of the line will receive the most attention. It’s possible that first-round pick Travis Frederick will anchor the center position. If Frederick lives up to his potential, a strong camp could land Phil Costa a starting job at guard in addition to backup center. The battle at the two guard spots will be most intense. Left guard Nate Livings is solid. Right guard Mackenzy Bernadeau finished strong after a slow start in 2012, but he’s missed the last two off-season programs with injuries. Ron Leary will also challenge for one of the starting jobs at guard.
DEFENSIVE SHIFT: Defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin and defensive line coach Rod Marinelli were hired to install a 4-3 scheme that should produce more turnovers. The scheme is relatively simple compared with what defensive coordinator Rob Ryan asked his players to execute the last two seasons. But to work, the team must avoid the injuries that devastated the defense in 2012. Cowboys officials have said consistently they expect the players to make the transition to a new scheme. When it comes to defensive tackle Jay Ratliff and linebackers Sean Lee and Bruce Carter, there is an expectation those players will shine even more. Linebackers DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer will now be undersized defensive ends. That’s fine if the Cowboys have a lot of size in the interior of the line, but they don’t. While it’s true Ware and Spencer will be closer to the quarterback and will get to rush more, it’s also true they will be in more traffic at the line of scrimmage. Cornerbacks Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne were solid last season in Ryan’s 3-4 scheme. This year they’ll have to adapt to the 4-3 coverage’s. The safety position is far from settled coming into camp this season. The team has five candidates vying for those starting jobs and rotations.
PLAYCALL MECHANICS: Jason Garrett has called the offensive plays for this franchise since 2007. He’s turned those duties over to offensive coordinator Bill Callahan. Whether he did this willingly or grudgingly is no longer relevant. What matters is how Garrett, Callahan and the rest of the offensive coaching staff execute this passing of the play sheet. Bill Callahan will likely be more persistent with the run game than Garrett. A commitment to run the ball more and an expected increase in packages that call for more two-tight end sets should help when the team is inside the shadow of the goalposts. The players will get a feel for what Callahan likes during this camp. The staff will also have five preseason games to work out the mechanics of how those plays will be delivered.
ON THE RISE: Dez Bryant entered his first two training camps as a prodigy in search of maturity with a need to refine his technique and consistency. The perception of Bryant entering this training camp is different. He is the team’s top receiver. Anything short of 100 receptions and a Pro Bowl would be considered a letdown. If Bryant's dramatic improvement continues, he will be one of the league’s elite WRs in 2013.
THE ROMO FACTOR: Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones is convinced Tony Romo is the quarterback to lead his franchise back to the Super Bowl. A six-year, $108 million extension makes that clear. The highest-paid player in Cowboys history must now deliver. Romo has been given more input than ever before. He helped with the installation of the offense this off-season and will have a greater voice in the weekly game plan. “I don’t like being an average football team,” Romo said.
DALLAS COWBOYS TRAINING CAMP SCHEDULE
Players day off, no practice
Players day off, no practice
TBD: Walk-through, travel to Canton, Ohio
TBD: Walk-through, break training camp, travel to Phoenix
(Note: Walk-through practices and news conferences are not open to the public)