SAN ANTONIO -- After he'd raved about his head coach's offseason weight loss, Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones got down to the business of discussing his expectations for the 2010 campaign. There have been times when Jones' optimism greatly exceeded the club's talent level.
But as he opened up "Built Ford Tough Cowboys Training Camp" while sitting above a picture of a truck grill, he mostly avoided hyperbole. At this time last year, the Cowboys' owner sounded the rally cry that his players needed to rise to the level of their new stadium. It was one of the first times a professional sports franchise had pinned its hopes on a new facility, and to a certain extent, it worked.
The Cowboys ended the longest playoff drought in club history with a home wild-card win over the Eagles. With one win, a head coach and a quarterback changed the narrative on their respective careers -- for now. And Jones thinks the subsequent Metrodome meltdown could be a motivating factor heading into this season.
"There's not a whole lot of things not to like about the upcoming season," said Jones, a master of the double negative. "...But there's a lot to make amends for, too, but that's not all bad."
The Cowboys have a legitimate shot to make history this season by becoming the first team to qualify for a Super Bowl held in their home stadium. I can assure it's something that Jones has daydreamed about since North Texas won the bid three years ago, but he's not worried about the added pressure. In fact, he thinks it will give the Cowboys even more incentive as they open training camp.
Of course, we've been down this road before. The Giants may have won the 2007 Super Bowl, but the Cowboys were the sexy pick heading into 2008 season. That team had a sense of entitlement that was fueled by all the expectations and glad-handing. We all know what happened to that team, but this group seems to have a better grasp of staying in the present. That's the point that the svelte Wade Phillips drove home Friday. He calls it a "right now approach."
"We don't have a football team yet," said Phillips. "We have 80 guys."
Phillips has always believed that every team is different and he realizes his players can't simply pick up where they left off last season. But the playoff win certainly gives Phillips more credibility in the locker room. Jones has been preaching continuity since the end of the '08 season, but that's a hollow message when not accompanied by playoff success. Now it appears that Jones may be rewarded for his patience.
By saying the 2010 team is nowhere close to set, Phillips is sending the message that players will have to compete for their jobs. He's often come across as a nurturing figure in the locker room, but it's clear that his players don't see him that way. Linebacker Keith Brooking, who also played for Phillips in Atlanta, is aghast when he hears people criticizing Phillips for being soft.
For now, the head coach is saying that everyone will have to earn their starting spot, and I suppose that includes Jerry's folly, wide receiver Roy Williams. First-round pick Dez Bryant will begin his competition with Williams for the No. 2 role sooner than some of us predicted. When the Cowboys selected Bryant last April, it was the closest thing to an admission from Jones that Williams was an expensive mistake.
You don't take the most talented wide receiver in the draft to be your No. 3 receiver. The fact that Dez Bryant surprised a lot of folks and agreed to a contract before camp has only enhanced his chances of winning the starting job. And the perception that Bryant showing up on time has put even more pressure on Williams isn't lost on Jones.
"No problem. I accept what you're saying that that's the perception," said Jones. "The facts are that we've got a chance to really be exceptional with the skills of those players and their ability to help us win ballgames. There are enough balls to go around if they're open."
Phillips talked about Bryant's "wow skills" following Friday's news conference,but he hasn't closed the door on Williams. He said his coaching staff has been watching film of Williams' time with the Lions in hopes of figuring how to put him in better situations. He even suggested that the Cowboys might adopt some of the plays in which Williams experienced success.
"We looked at every snap he played at Detroit," said Phillips.
The Cowboys also happen to have Williams' former quarterback, Jon Kitna, on the roster, but you have to draw the line somewhere. Jones admitted to having some concerns about his team, but the only thing he could come up with on the spot was wanting to develop more depth behind his top three cornerbacks.
The most troubling thing to come out of the news conference was Jones' blind devotion to placekicker David Buehler. At one point, Jones said something about "burning the boats" in response to a Buehler question, which was an obscure way of saying he's eliminating any alternative plans.
"Buehler is capable,” Jones said after the news conference. “Unlike the $2 million kicker I paid that came in and didn't hit anything but squib kicks for field goals, but we still went with him, we're going to go with how it looks and how he's feeling. We're going to have these preseason games to work on it and we don't want to clutter the water. We want to go in that direction and if we have a concern toward the end of the things, then you'd look at it differently.”
I guess if your biggest concern heading into training camp is placekicker, it's probably a good sign. And when you have a chance to kick Mike Vanderjagt in the groin, why not?