OXNARD, Calif. — Let’s see now.The Dallas Cowboys. It’s a football club of note, at least historically.But what the heck do we make of this year’s edition going on four weeks in training camp and two exhibition games already in the book?“We’re a good team,” Jason Witten said here Monday.Really? It’s real early. But really?Witten, about as productive a player as the franchise has ever had, and also a guy who attempts to hold the BS to a minimum, paused after that “good team” comment, perhaps noticing the “really?” look on the face of the question-asker.Channeling his best Big Bill-ism of “you are what your record says you are,” Witten had this quick follow-up:“We’re a good team with a track record that is not acceptable. We are an 8-8 team. That’s the bottom line. Two seasons straight it’s been 8-8. Totally not acceptable.“I don’t think we will be 8-8 this season. I think we’re a better team than that. But that’s just talk. We need to get way beyond the talk. We need more wins, not more talk.”Amen, brother.A year ago out here in Oxnard, Witten had the best advice I’ve heard in years from anyone associated with the Cowboys.“Shut up.” That was his pointed advice.In other words, don’t be talking about the playoffs, certainly don’t be talking about the Super Bowl. Shut up, go play and do it on the field, not with the mouth.“I don’t regret what I said then, but when the season was over, we were 8-8 again, didn’t make the playoffs and you can say nothing changed,” he said. “But I think the message still applies. Forget predicting, just win a couple of those games we seemed to let get away late in the fourth quarter.”Look, training camp is a time for optimism. When Witten said it’s a “good team” I didn’t think it was a case of contradicting his “shut up” message.“It’s not a prediction, is it, to say we are better than 8-8?” Witten replied. “And I don’t think it’s overreaching to say we are better than 8-8. Except 8-8 is what we are until we prove that’s not what we are.”But optimism in mid-August, of course, has to come with the follow-up in September of improvement. Then it has to continue in October and beyond.Witten plays tight end. He doesn’t coach. But it was an echo Monday from Jason Garrett when Witten quickly whipped off how the Cowboys can remove the 8-8 blah stain.“Offense scores touchdowns instead of field goals in the red zone,” he began. “Both sides of the ball cut down on stupid penalties. Offense runs the ball a lot better than we have been. And the defense gets stops and take-aways.”Aha. That last part about the defense getting stops and being improved, seems to me to be the undercurrent message of this camp. In only two days here, I constantly hear it, but in a subtle and off-the-record kind of way.Let’s just say Rob Ryan is now the whipping boy of the back-to-back 8-8 seasons, or to flip it around, the confidence level in the work of newcomer coaches Monte Kiffin and Rob Marinelli is through the Oxnard roof.Of course, the contrast is that Ryan was fired here as defensive coordinator and then hired by Sean Payton in New Orleans. I thought it was maybe the most interesting hire of the entire NFL off-season, given Payton’s immense respect in the league and Ryan’s lack of results with the Cowboys.Witten, wisely, would not touch that Ryan topic.“With this change, it’s just a totally different approach to defense that goes beyond even the switch to the 4-3 from the 3-4,” he said. “I know the defensive guys love it, and I love it lining up against it in practice.“But it’s like with us on offense. Only the results will tell us the answer.”The snapshot look at the Cowboys says, offensively, there is strong depth at wide receiver, interesting depth appears to be building at running back, Witten is one of the best tight ends ever and the one area still unsettled is extremely critical: the offensive line.The quarterback? Well, he can play with the best at times. He can screw up with the worst at other times. But the Garrett goal in this camp is making life easier for Romo by improving the running game and being better defensively.On the defensive side, the Cowboys are seeking depth for the four-man front, and definitely need depth at safety. By the way, DeMarcus Ware and Sean Lee are being hailed as studs in this new defense, but we already knew they would be.Ware, of course, is making the switch to a hand on the ground end. So far, great.But the bottom line goes back to what Witten said:It is still an 8-8 team until the Cowboys prove they aren’t.Proving it is an ongoing chore.
Randy Galloway can be heard 3-6 p.m. weekdays on Galloway & Co. on ESPN/103.3 FM. Randy Galloway, 817-390-7697 Twitter: @sportsdfw