Five things to watch
1 - Tony Romo’s back
The Cowboys took a cautious approach with their starting quarterback’s back this off-season. Tony Romo, 34, had surgery to repair a herniated disk in December, and the Cowboys put him on a pitch count during their off-season workouts. Romo said during the team’s minicamp last month that he is healthy and expects to be 100 percent for the start of training camp. In 2013, Romo missed the entire off-season after having back surgery in April, but he returned for the first training camp practice.
2 - Sean Lee’s absence
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The Cowboys weren’t even two hours into their first organized team activity when Sean Lee lost his footing while trying to change direction and crumpled under the block of rookie right guard Zack Martin. The middle linebacker tore his left anterior cruciate ligament May 27 and had surgery June 12. The Cowboys placed Lee on injured reserve July 1, thereby officially ending Lee’s season before it began. Rookie Anthony Hitchens, DeVonte Holloman, Justin Durant and Rolando McClain — who was obtained in a trade with the Ravens earlier this month — will compete for the starting job. Safety Barry Church, cornerback Brandon Carr and defensive tackle Henry Melton are expected to fill Lee’s leadership role.
3 - Rod Marinelli’s influence
Rod Marinelli becomes the team’s third defensive coordinator in three seasons following Rob Ryan and Monte Kiffin. Kiffin led the team’s switch from the 3-4 to the Tampa 2 last season, but the result was a disaster. Injuries combined with ineptness led to the Cowboys giving up the third-most yards in NFL history. Kiffin stayed on as assistant head coach/defense to assist his good friend Marinelli, who most recently served as the Bears’ defensive coordinator under Lovie Smith in Chicago from 2010-12. Marinelli has his hands full trying to get the unit back to the team’s standards for defense, having lost DeMarcus Ware, Jason Hatcher and Sean Lee this off-season.
4 - Scott Linehan’s influence
Scott Linehan has the title of passing-game coordinator, but he will call the plays for the Cowboys. Bill Callahan retained his title of offensive coordinator, but he has been relegated mainly to offensive line duties after one season calling the plays. Jason Garrett called the plays in 2011. The Cowboys’ production has fallen each of the past two seasons, and Linehan is charged with putting the offense back on track. In the five seasons Linehan was Detroit’s offensive coordinator, the Lions ran 343 more plays than the Cowboys. They had more total yards, more passing attempts and more rushing attempts but fewer total yards, fewer passing yards and fewer rushing yards. Detroit ranked sixth, third and fifth in total offense the past three seasons.
5 - Jason Garrett’s future
Garrett enters the final year of his contract sporting a 29-27 record since he took over for Wade Phillips during the 2010 season. The Cowboys finished 8-8 each of the past three seasons, missing the playoffs on the final week of the season. This training camp could be Garrett’s last with the team unless the Cowboys can manage a playoff berth this season. Owner Jerry Jones has said he believes the Cowboys have upgraded their defense enough to make them a contender this season, though they have lost DeMarcus Ware (Broncos), Jason Hatcher (Redskins) and Sean Lee (knee).