IRVING, TEXAS (AP) - For the Dallas Cowboys, the road home could lead to the next Super Bowl.
Since the end of last season, and even before that, Jerry Jones has constantly reminded his Cowboys that Super Bowl XLV will be played at their own stadium in February.
“Our owner lets us know the game is at Cowboys Stadium and he would love his team to play in it,” Pro Bowl linebacker DeMarcus Ware said. “We are doing everything we can get to get there.”
But long before the possibility of being the first host team ever in a Super Bowl, or even playing a 2010 regular season game, the defending NFC East champion Cowboys have quite a summer trip.
Training camp begins Saturday at the Alamodome in San Antonio. That begins a five-week stretch in which the Cowboys will travel more than 6,500 miles, practice in three different cities and play preseason games in four stadiums.
“We’re America’s team, everybody wants to see us,” receiver Roy Williams said.
Dallas will be the first full squad to begin camp, but Cleveland rookies report Friday. Rookies for New England and San Diego report Sunday, and every NFL team will be in camp by Aug. 1.
For the third time in four years, 17 of the 32 teams will conduct training camp at home. Just nine years ago, only five of 31 teams stayed home for preseason workouts.
Super Bowl champion New Orleans opens camp at home July 29. But before the Saints won the title last year, the previous three Super Bowl winners _ Pittsburgh, Indianapolis and the New York Giants _ had all held camp away from home.
For the Cowboys, the climate-controlled Alamodome will be their base for two weeks before going to Canton, Ohio, to play in the Pro Football Hall of Fame Game. A few days at home and a preseason game at Cowboys Stadium follows that.
Then comes two weeks in Oxnard, Calif., a strech that includes a game at San Diego. They break their West Coast camp and head to Houston for a game before finally getting to settle in at their Valley Ranch facility to prepare for the home preseason finale and the start of the regular season.
“I’ve had some pretty strange years, but not moving like that,” said 13-year veteran Keith Brooking, going into his second season with Dallas. “I played in the Tokyo Bowl, 16-hour flight or whatever it was two weeks into training camp and still having four preseason games to play. But never two weeks at camp, then moving.”
“Nobody cares where we practice. People care about whether we win,” linebacker Bradie James said.
Jones raised the Lombardi Trophy three times in a four-year stretch in the mid 1990s. But the five-time champions have gone 14 seasons without winning a title and didn’t even win another playoff game until last January.
The 20-year owner could think of no better way to end the championship drought than by winning a Super Bowl at his $1.2 billion stadium that opened last season.
“They have the potential to get there,” said NFL career rushing leader Emmitt Smith, the three-time Super Bowl champion with the Cowboys who will be inducted into the Hall of Fame next month. “Hopefully those guys have taken this offseason and said next year should be our time.”
With lofty expectations and their longest training camp in more than a decade ahead of them, it’s good for the Cowboys there are few issues and little drama. Just plenty of motivation.
“I really do feel that we’ve got top talent on the team, but this same talent, the majority of it, saw us fall short last year,” Jones said. “And that keeps anybody from getting too caught up in what this looks like. We’ve got a lot of work to do when we get to training camp.”
Here are some of the top storylines for the Cowboys so far:
_ Doug Free gets the first chance to replace left tackle Flozell Adams, the expensive 35-year-old five-time Pro Bowler cut last spring. Free, going into his fourth season, started seven games at right tackle for injured Marc Colombo last year.
The Cowboys also acquired tackle Alex Barron, sending Bobby Carpenter to St. Louis in a trade of underachieving former first-round picks.
_ After receiver Miles Austin went from relative unknown to Pro Bowl player and Dez Bryant was drafted in the first round, Patrick Crayton asked for a trade and skipped most voluntary offseason workouts. But Crayton, who could still end up playing for somebody this season, showed up for the final week of workouts and the minicamp, working like he always had.
_ Safety Ken Hamlin, a 2007 Pro Bowler who like Adams had a contract through 2013, was also cut. Alan Ball, primarily a cornerback his first two seasons, is the likely replacement opposite Gerald Sensabaugh.
_ Hamlin’s departure is the only significant change for coach Wade Phillips’ 3-4 defense, which allowed the fewest points in the NFC last season and ended the regular season with consecutive shutouts for the first time in the team’s 50-year history.
With Jason Garrett calling plays for Tony Romo and a record-setting offense, and Phillips settling into the dual role as the NFL’s only head coach-defensive coordinator, Jones is excited about the continuity of the coaching staff. He believes that is good for Phillips, who is 33-15 after three seasons in Dallas and finally has a playoff victory as a head coach.
“You can just sense it when you’re talking to him, he’s so comfortable in himself around this team,” Jones said. “I’m not talking about he’s laid back or taking things too easy. He’s just gotten very comfortable, exudes to me when I’m with him, the feel, that feeling he feels about his team.”
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