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'Camp Marshmallow' will pay off for Dallas Cowboys, Phillips says

OXNARD, Calif. -- Cowboys coach Wade Phillips made a crack during the first episode of Hard Knocks that this was Camp Marshmallow.

But was that really a joke? It truly was more like Soft Knocks than Hard Knocks in training camp when it came to hitting, but Phillips wanted it that way. He didn’t want to overwork his team or get players hurt. He feels he got the needed work and has a fresh team steadily building toward the Sept. 7 opener at Cleveland.

Dallas broke camp Tuesday afternoon leaving behind Oxnard after practice headed to Denver to practice with the Broncos before their game Saturday in Denver. Phillips and Cowboys owner Jerry Jones believe the team accomplished the mission in camp without full contact or wearing full pads very often.

“I thought we had a good camp,” Phillips said. “I think the facilities and the weather certainly were great for us. We got a lot of work done, I thought technique-work, especially. I think it will pay off for us.”

The Cowboys had 24 practices, including seven two-a-days, but the lack of tackling in workouts showed up in the preseason opener. Dallas’ reserves struggled with open-field tackles and on special teams.

The players had just one day off during the 20 days in Oxnard and felt the camp was tough. Linebacker Zach Thomas said this camp was every bit as tough as the ones in Miami, including ones with hard-nosed Nick Saban as head coach.

There were several practices that were light, like the one Monday after the loss to San Diego on Saturday. The Cowboys also leave with only one significant injury. Cowboys Pro Bowl cornerback Terence Newman suffered a slightly torn groin in the first week and won’t be back for at least another week. The team is taking their time with Newman, hoping to avoid having the injury linger into the season.

As far as Oxnard is concerned, dehydration was never a serious problem as the team practiced with the temperatures in the 60s and 70s and often with a cool breeze.

Here’s five memorable moments from Cowboys Camp 2008 in Oxnard:

1. Earthquake. On the fifth day of camp a 5.4 earthquake rocked the Los Angeles area and was felt 60 miles northwest in Oxnard. Guard Leonard Davis thought someone was shaking his bed and Zach Thomas got queasy.

2. The Barbarian rocks Tyson Smith. Running back Marion Barber had the most devastating hit in camp knocking Smith off his feet and out in a blocking drill. Smith, who had beaten Barber on the previous repetition, suffered a slight concussion and was out the next day.

3. T.O. vs. Pacman. It was good battle and provided the best drama for fans. Owens got the best of Pacman most times, including a double move for a touchdown that crossed up the corner in one-on-one drills.

4. Magic Johnson arrives Being close to Hollywood, the stars (all Cowboys fans, of course) rolled out to practice. But the best was a sports star in Lakers great Magic Johnson. He visited practice and Phillips asked him to talk to the team.

5. All aboard. The Cowboys traveled by train from Oxnard to San Diego for the preseason opener. It was a unique experience for several players, especially the ones that hadn’t been on a train like Felix Jones and Martellus Bennett. The five-hour ride served as a valuable team-building time.