SAN ANTONIO (AP)—Jerry Jones believes the $1.15 billion stadium the Dallas Cowboys are moving into is “one of the greatest venues that sports has ever seen.”
He also believes this year’s team “will play to the level of the new stadium.”
Hmm. Put the two thoughts together and Jones seems to have pretty lofty expectations.
OK, so maybe he’s not saying the 2009 Cowboys will be among the greatest clubs sports has ever seen. But he is counting on them to end a stretch of 12 straight seasons without a postseason victory, the longest dry spell in club history.
“Our team is very capable of being a playoff-winning team,” Jones said Tuesday. “We’re very capable of that.”
Jones’ comments came during his annual “state of the Cowboys” news conference on the eve of training camp. The team will get to work Wednesday morning.
“We’re ready,” coach Wade Phillips said, slapping a table for emphasis.
During the hourlong talk, Jones repeatedly brought up how strongly he supports Phillips, even mentioning it twice during his opening statement. Yet Phillips is in the final guaranteed season of the contract he signed when he replaced Bill Parcells in 2006. Asked why Phillips is in that precarious position despite having so much support, Jones said, “It’s just not an issue.”
Even less of an issue, Jones and Phillips made clear, is the team’s support of quarterback Tony Romo.
The bosses couldn’t say enough good things about their highest-paid and highest-profile employee. They answered questions about Romo’s leadership, conditioning, work ethic and protection of the football before those questions were even asked.
“You’re seeing a more seasoned individual than you were talking with three years ago,” Jones said. “I know he’s had a lot of criticism, and I know he knows it.”
Romo is under the microscope for many reasons. It started with the Cowboys going 1-3 at the end of last season, costing them a playoff spot, and grew over an offseason that Jones said was all about making the team more “Romo-friendly,” leading to moves that included the release of star receiver Terrell Owens.
It’s also led to the theory that Romo is without any excuses, an idea that irked Jones.
“To make that valid, you have to assume he had a lot of excuses before,” Jones said. “I just don’t think that’s the right way to describe what we’ve done personnel-wise or what we’ve emphasized in the offseason.”
Jones also reiterated that T.O. had to go to make way for Roy Williams and other young, emerging receivers.
In fact, Jones summed up this team as being like those receivers—a work in progress that should get better as the season goes along.
“I think we’ve got a chance to have a really, really top team. We have that chance,” Jones said. “The definition of the talent level is there to really excel. But will it remain there? Will the all-important preparation and the all-important getting the most out of the talent happen? That’s what we’re going to push for.”
Other noteworthy comments:
— Special teams work is being moved to the start of every practice, partly as a consideration to the unit’s coach, Joe DeCamillis, who still wears a neck brace because of injuries sustained when the team’s indoor practice facility collapsed. The change also is to emphasize the team’s renewed commitment to special teams.
— Phillips wants the running game to get back into the top 10, so that, too, will be emphasized more in practice.
— Extension talks for linebacker DeMarcus Ware remain a top priority and “our hope would be that we would get something done,” vice president Stephen Jones said. “With someone the caliber of DeMarcus and the professional that he is, I think he can, from what I’ve seen, compartmentalize what he’s dealing with in terms of his business both on and off the field. I feel comfortable he’ll be just fine with that.”
— Phillips on his contract status: “I don’t worry about my job. I worry about the job I’m doing. … It’s how good of a job I’m doing for Jerry, how good of a job I’m doing getting this football team ready to play and then playing and doing well this season.”
— Jones continues to say he has no interest in Michael Vick as a quarterback, adding that he does think Vick will return to the NFL. After dealing with Adam “Pacman” Jones last season, Jones knows the conditions set by commissioner Roger Goodell’s will be strict. “Boy, there’s not much give,” he said.
— The roster is almost complete. Three draft picks signed Tuesday, leaving three unsigned. Dallas also waived receiver Travis Wilson, making a spot for receiver Jesse Holley, the winner of Michael Irvin’s reality show.
— Jones pointed out that the last two times the Cowboys trained in San Antonio they won 10 and 13 games and made the playoffs both times.