Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones seemed to be trying to temper the obvious expectations he has for his team.
"There's just not a whole lot of things not to like about the upcoming season," Jones said Friday on the eve of the Cowboys opening training camp in San Antonio. "But we all know the game and the journey we have ahead of us."
The ever-optimistic Jones constantly reminded his players since the end of last season, and even before that, that they could be the first Super Bowl host team to play for the title. He beams with pride when talking about his $1.2 billion stadium that opened in 2009.
Yet, on the day before the Cowboys open the NFL's longest full-squad camp this year, Jones talked about how the defending NFC East champions ended last season. After winning their first playoff game in 13 seasons, against the Philadelphia Eagles at home, they lost 34-3 at Minnesota the following weekend.
Yet, clearly that is what he wants to happen.
Instead of a spending spree in an uncapped salary year, Jones emphasized continuity with a group that has had success -- though it still hasn't reached the pinnacle the owner experienced by raising the Lombardi Trophy three times in a four-year span during the mid-1990s.
A slimmer coach Wade Phillips (he has lost about 40 pounds since last season) goes into his fourth year with a 33-15 record in Dallas and a playoff victory to his credit.
Jones said having that continuity "is a big deal. ... We have got a lot of continuity in what our players are going to be asked to learn and execute."
The only significant changes came after Dallas cut expensive former Pro Bowl players Flozell Adams, their offensive left tackle the past 12 seasons, and safety Ken Hamlin.
"We do have a lot of starters coming back," Phillips said. "We have a lot of starters who played well and are coming into the prime of their careers."
Regardless of what happens, this will be a special season for the five-time Super Bowl champions, who are marking 50 years as an organization. For the first time, Dallas has the highest all-time winning percentage in NFL history at .580, just ahead of Miami (.579), after the Cowboys won their last three games of the 2009 regular season.
Emmitt Smith, the NFL's career rushing leader, is being inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in two weeks, and the Cowboys are playing in the preseason opener that weekend in Canton, Ohio. Troy Aikman and Michael Irvin, teammates with Smith for those three Super Bowl championships under Jones' ownership, already are in the Hall of Fame.
With the extra preseason game, the Cowboys are the first full squad to open camp. Rookies on some other teams are reporting, but no other full squads report until Wednesday.
Dallas has all of its drafted rookies under contract after linebacker Sean Lee, the second-round pick, agreed to a deal Friday. First-round pick Dez Bryant on Thursday agreed to a five-year deal.
After the Cowboys went 13-3 in Phillips' debut season, there were big expectations the following year. But they went 9-7 and missed the playoffs in 2008.
Jones remembers what the coach told players before the start of training camp two years ago -- that everybody was saying all they had to do was pick up where they left off and the next stop would be the Super Bowl. But the coach reminded them then they were still 80 players and not yet a 53-man team.
"We've approached it, it's not the Super Bowl at our place, it's this next practice for us, that's the most important thing for us, and then the progression from there," Phillips said Friday. "We're going to take a right-now approach."
Phillips described the team as confident but realistic. The coach said the Cowboys want to draw from their great tradition and "made some strides" last season.
"We have some players on this team that have had some close experience in maybe knocking on the door of the Super Bowl that are going to play major important roles for this team," Jones said. "I don't even know that they need to be reminded that close doesn't count. We all know we have an opportunity. It's easy to see that it doesn't sit there for you forever."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.