Cowboys getting younger, but will youth change 8-8?

08/02/2014 9:29 PM

11/12/2014 7:24 PM

The Dallas Cowboys don’t have a player wearing No. 19 or No. 94. Terrell McClain wears No. 97 now, not Jason Hatcher.

The more names change….

Quarterback Tony Romo remembers former coach Bill Parcells warning him this day would come, when few teammates with whom he started his career remained on the Cowboys’ roster.

“You’re always looking forward,” Romo said. “It’s funny you never really look back at what you did or any of the stuff you’ve done semi-successfully or this over here and what you did good.

“As an athlete, you always look to the next play, the next season, the next game, but along the way you develop some friendships and camaraderie and special times with different individuals.

“So that’s probably one of the tougher things about playing is just how all of a sudden, every few years, there’s that changeover that takes place, and after 10 or 12 years, they’re all gone except Jason Witten. I think you miss some of those guys.”

The Cowboys have only eight players remaining from when Jason Garrett took over from Wade Phillips in the middle of the 2010 season.

Romo, Witten, Dez Bryant, Doug Free, Barry Church and company now form the core.

“We talk about 8-8, 8-8, 8-8 [the past three years], and a lot of these guys don’t know that,” Witten said. “They need to know the urgency we’re playing with, and obviously we’re counting on a lot of those guys to be playmakers. Youth brings excitement and some energy to your team, and we have to lay out expectations for them.”

The Cowboys released DeMarcus Ware (32) and Miles Austin (30), and they lost Jason Hatcher (32) in free agency. They got younger in the off-season, with an average age of 26.9 years for their 22 projected starters.

Only Romo (34), Witten (32), Free (30) and Jeremy Mincey (30) are in their 30s among the team’s starters, and seven projected opening-day starters are 24 or under.

Owner Jerry Jones pointed out at his camp-opening news conference that 47 of the 90 players who began camp with the Cowboys are new to the team.

“We’ve never had more new faces,” Jones said.

Jones said Dallas has “gone from possibly being one of the older teams to being one of the younger teams.”

In truth, the Cowboys have gone young, younger and youngest the past three seasons.

In 2012, the Cowboys were tied for the 13th-youngest opening-day roster with an average age of 25.98. They had nine players over the age of 30 and 11 rookie and first-year players. Last year, the Cowboys were tied for seventh-youngest with an average age of 25.58. They had eight players over the age of 30 and 13 rookies and first-year players. (St. Louis had the league’s youngest roster at 24.98.)

The Cowboys should be even younger this season.

“It’s always been a younger man’s league,” Garrett said. “We’ve made that transition, and we’re going to give some younger guys a chance to compete.”

Dallas projects to have seven opening-day starters different from the 2013 season opener, including five on defense. Those seven players average 25.6 years of age.

Defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli said this is the youngest defense he has coached.

“I think you’ve got really fresh legs,” Marinelli said. “I think guys don’t get banged up as fast, because they don’t want to get out. They might hurt, ‘I’d better stay in if I want to make this team.’ There’s hunger in there.”

The question for the Cowboys, who are in a four-year playoff drought, is: Will their youth be served?

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