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One player whose toughness Wade Phiilips won't have to worry about: running back Marion Barber (24) is a proven quantity between the tackles. (Photo:
Texas Sports: NFL
Cowboys hit 2009 without the
distractions, sense of 'entitlement'
By Dave Mundy

Dallas Cowboys head coach Wade Phillips is almost sounding like a conservative politician these days. There will be no more sense of entitlement in Dallas, he says.

"The mental part, I want them to keep working on football," Phillips told "And keep going over the things that we need to go over mentally, review all things that that we've done in OTA's and mini-camp football-wise."

Gone are two big distractions: T.O. (Terrell Owens), the flashy wide receiver, and cornerback Adam “Pacman” Jones, each of whom seemingly spent as much time in the news for off-the-field shenanigans as the rest of the team put together. The drama of the Tony Romo-Jessica Simpson romance has subsided, at least for the time being, and Phillips is eager to get back down to basics with a team that finished 9-7 a year ago.

"Offensively we put in a lot of things - a lot more things than we have in previous years," Phillips said. "We're going to see which ones we want to keep. We're going to work with those things. And defensively we didn't put a whole lot of new things in so I expected those guys to learn it quicker and I think they have done that well." 

There’s a lot of attention on the offense, where offensive coordinator Jason Garrett and Romo shouldered much of the blame after the Cowboys fizzled a year ago. Garrett had won raves for his expertise in 2007 when the team rolled up 455 points in 16 games, but endured criticism from the media, fans and even some of his own players over play selection as point production dropped to 362 last year.

Injuries had as much to do with that as anything, including QB Romo being out three weeks with a broken finger, but Garrett is instilling a fresh attitude in the players.

"I just think Jason's done a great job of allowing us to know that it's a new year and you've got to have a chip on your shoulder and we've got a lot to prove," tight end Jason Witten said. "You just go back to the basics and the fundamentals and try to build that team again." 

One innovation Garrett has already made is the implementation of his own wrinkle in the Wildcat offense – utilizing the talents of Arkansas standout Felix Jones in the “Razorback” offense.

The re-tooling goes beyond formations, however.

Wide receiver Roy Williams is a solid pass-catcher, but doesn’t have the same speed and moves that Owens does, although at 6-3 he has better height. The Cowboy attack will have to adapt to that.

On the opposite side, Perry Crayton is the projected starter, but would get a battle for the spot ffrom the sure-handed Miles Austin, who’s recovering from not one, but two, knee injuries in 2008.

"I think what you're always trying to do is get better at what you do, and then you're trying to evolve," Garrett said. "And that's been the case here for the last three years. You're always trying to look at new things. You study how you did stuff, you study how other people have done stuff, and you take a peek at it and see if it fits. . . . And then as you get going you figure out what you're going to be good at." 

One thing the Cowboys should be good at is running the ball. Marion Barber is as reliable between the tackles as any back in the game, and the speedy Jones gives Dallas a 1-2 option that should set opposing defenses to thinking. Tashard Choice, a fourth-round pick last year, stepped up well late in the season when both Barber and Jones were sidelined.
Phillips has said he wants to make a greater commitment to the run game – Dallas ran the ball only 25 times a game, on average, in 2008.

At quarterback, Romo is the undisputed starter. Criticized for inconsistent play in 2008 – with some fans foolishly attributing that to his widely-publicized romance with Simpson – it could be argued that the training room was a prime cause for that inconsistency, with folks like Barber, Jones and Romo himself missing key stretches of the season.

Journeyman Jon Kitna, 36, is the new backup. He’s a former starter and can step up when needed. The Cowboys are also high on rookie Stephen McGee, who should see a lot of snaps in the pre-season.

Dallas made some improvement on defense in the off-season, but the biggest question will be in the secondary.

The Cowboys signed free agent safety Gerald Sensabaugh to team with Ken Hamlin deep, and that combination looks like a solid one. Mike Jenkins and Orlando Scandrick will duke it out to replace Anthony Henry on one corner, while Terrence Newman – on eo fthe league’s better cover men – appears to have a lock on the other side.

Demarcus Ware and Bradie James make it easy for the Cowboys to replace the other two starters at linebacker in their 3-4 defensive alignment – they’re two of the best in the game at the position. Dallas picked up Atlanta veteran Keith Brooking to fill one inside LB slot, with third-year man Anthony Spencer stepping up to a starting job on the outside.

Dallas lost DE Chris Canty to free agency (and the Giants), but replaced him with the Chargers’ Igor Olshanky – who not only came $24 million cheaper, but has a football name every sportswriter in Texas will love.

Noseman Jay Ratliff doesn’t have optimum size to play the position, but was the team’s most consistent defensive player in 2008 and earned himself a Pro Bowl spot as a result. Marcus Spears, 2005’s No.1 draft pick, is likely the starter on the other end, while Jason Hatcher and Stephen Bowen will be available to add to the pass rush.

Phillips is promising this season won’t begin the same way the 2008 campaign began, when the Cowboys approached the year with what some have termed “a sense of entitlement.”
The coach has already promised that players showing up out of shape and overweight will pay – the league maximum of $453 for each pound over the player’s given reporting weight.

"That's part of being accountable, and I told them that - not only to their teammates but to themselves," Phillips said. "I want them all coming in in the best shape they can be in." 

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