1. Shake, rattle and roll
The earthquake that shook Southern California on Wednesday sent tremors through the Cowboys' training facility that won't be forgotten any time soon. I was sitting outside of the team's administrative area, along with NFL.com colleague Gil Brandt. We were talking with linebacker Greg Ellis when our chairs and table suddenly started moving from side to side.
"Are we shaking?" Ellis asked.
Yes, we were shaking. And once we all figured out that it was, indeed, an earthquake, we noticed team officials scurrying out of the building. Among the first were owner/general manager Jerry Jones and his sons -- chief operating officer Stephen and executive vice president Jerry Jr.
"Hey, Stephen, crank up the jets and let's go (home)," yelled Ellis, who, like many Cowboy players and staffers, had never experienced an earthquake.
Jerry Jones would later point out that he was in a meeting when "someone said, 'This (building's) moving.' And the next thing moving was me hitting that door. I was not going to let something fall on me here in California."
Coach Wade Phillips joked that before he realized what was happening, he just assumed that 353-pound offensive guard Leonard Davis was walking by his office.
Recalled Tony Romo, who was in a quarterbacks meeting at the time of the earthquake, "(Offensive coordinator) Jason (Garrett) said, 'Hold on, it's just a little tremor.' I'm like, 'Are you kidding me? I'm getting out of here right now. This meeting is over!'"
2. Super Bowl or bust
"I don't expect any more of our team than what they expect of themselves," Phillips said. "For them to have high expectations is great. But there's a lot of hard work in between and the coach has got to keep the team grounded, so to speak, because the percentages aren't really good. You've got a three percent chance of winning the Super Bowl, if everything's equal. So we try not to make it equal."
Phillips cleared up the mini-controversy that he had talked about it being "time to get measured for a (Super Bowl) ring" during a recent address to a pep rally of Cowboy youth coaches. Phillips said that was not the case and that he was merely acknowledging someone near the front of the room chanting, "A ring for the finger."
As usual, Jones' expectations are as high as anyone in the organization, but he points out the importance of remembering the challenges of winning 13 games last season. "(We can't say), 'Oh, we ought to feel good how we dominated Buffalo and won that game up there," he said, referring to the Cowboys' amazing late comeback for a 25-24 victory on Monday Night Football.
3. Continuity helping Romo
Although Romo is coming off the most prolific season of any quarterback in Cowboys history, it is reasonable to expect him to perform even better this year. That's because, for the first time in six NFL seasons, he is working within the same offensive system in two successive years. Jones said the desire to allow Romo to work with Garrett for another season was the primary reason he made Garrett the NFL's highest-paid offensive coordinator to prevent him from taking a head-coaching job elsewhere.
"More than anything else, we just want him to continue the progress he's made," Garrett said. "He's still a very young player as a starting quarterback; he hasn't started that many games (24 in the regular season, two in the postseason). And what we love about him as a coaching staff is he's someone who takes advantage of the reps that he gets. Whether it's in practice or whether it's in games, you can see him learning."
Romo considered continuity between a quarterback and an offensive coordinator "probably the most underrated aspect" when people evaluate quarterbacks.
"Now if you're a special guy, like a John Elway or a (Joe) Montana, they're going to be good no matter what system they're under," Romo said. "But there are only so many guys out there that can do it at a high level week in and week out. For some of the other guys across the league, who are consistently switching up offensive systems, it's difficult just because you get to learn so much through experience."
4. Replacing Glenn
The most intriguing roster issue is who will replace former Cowboy Terry Glenn as the No. 2 receiver opposite Terrell Owens.
Fifth-year veteran Patrick Crayton is the most experienced and accomplished candidate, mainly on the strength of his 50-catch, seven-touchdown performance after taking over for the injured Glenn last season. But the Cowboys also like what they have in a couple of third-year players, Sam Hurd and Miles Austin.
This is how Garrett assesses the group: "Patrick is a guy who's very instinctive, has very good hands, is a good route-runner. He just has a good feel for playing the position. Sam Hurd is just a productive football player. He gets an opportunity to do something, and he comes through. Miles Austin has a lot of ability. He runs well, he's quick in and out of breaks, he has the potential to make some big plays for you. He, like a lot of young players, just needs an opportunity to do it. He needs more reps, and I think the consistency will come from that."
5. Relying on rotation
The defensive coaches believe one of the greatest strengths of their unit this season will be the ability to frequently rotate linemen in order to ensure that they'll have the freshest bodies on the field late in games. They expect that to be particularly important early in the season, when the weather is generally at its warmest wherever the team plays.
"It definitely makes a difference," end Chris Canty said. "Offensive linemen, for the most part, don't rotate. So when you can come at them in waves, it definitely bodes well for your fourth-quarter pass rush that you can just wear an offensive line out."