By John McMullen, NFL Editor
REPORT DATE: July 23
SITE: City of Oxnard Fields, Oxnard, CA
CAMP CONFIDENTIAL: Pop quiz for the fans in Dallas: how do you stay competitive in the NFL with no commitment to the running game, a pedestrian offensive line, and a historically bad defense thanks to Jerry Jones' colossal mistake of replacing the aggressive-minded Rob Ryan with antiquated cover-2 devotees?
Try looking at quarterback Tony Romo.
Romo, the same guy who gets most of the heat in Dallas when things go wrong, is the very player that has been keeping this thing afloat. He's also now 34 years old and coming off back surgery to repair a herniated disc.
By all accounts, Romo is healthy but bad backs are as tricky as it gets and the Cowboys waived goodbye to a rather significant insurance policy earlier this week by releasing veteran backup Kyle Orton.
Last month, Orton was a no-show at Cowboys minicamp amid speculation that he might retire if he didn't get a pay raise. Ex-Cleveland bust Brandon Weeden is now set to be Romo's caddie.
In other areas Jones has finally started making some prudent personnel decisions as evidenced by this year's draft. The old Jones probably would have jumped at the chance to take the high-profile Johnny Manziel with the 16th overall pick but a more-tempered owner/GM took one of the safest picks in the process instead, Notre Dame offensive lineman Zack Martin.
Two years ago the Cowboys had one of the worst offensive lines in football and now they have three potential stars on that unit, Martin, left tackle Tyron Smith and center Travis Frederick.
The short- term outlook in the Lone Star State remains bleak, however, especially on the defensive side of the ball where there is little talent, a fact exacerbated by the loss of perhaps the only difference maker on the unit, middle linebacker Sean Lee, who went down with a torn ACL during OTAs.
KEY OFFENSIVE ACQUISITION: Martin is expected to start his NFL career at right guard but he is so versatile he could kick out to right tackle if the aging Doug Free falters or flip over to left guard and play next to Smith if offensive play caller Scott Linehan feels that's the prudent way to go.
KEY DEFENSIVE ACQUISITION: Rod Marinelli might have had the toughest job in football with Lee available. Without him, the Cowboys' first-year defensive coordinator could yearn for the halcyon days of his 0-16 performance as the head coach of the Detroit Lions back in 2008.
That said, the NFC East is shaping up as one of the NFL's worst divisions as a whole and any of the four teams could make a run toward the postseason despite significant holes, meaning Dallas is obligated to turn over every rock especially with Romo's shelf life as an upper echelon quarterback quickly approaching its expiration date. The Cowboys did exactly that early this month by acquiring the rights to former first- round pick Rolando McClain in a trade with the Baltimore Ravens.
McClain, who will be expected to replace Lee, arrives in north Texas with more physical gifts than any of his peers on the team's defense. Of course, he'll also show up with more baggage than your average socialite planning a weekend trip to Las Vegas.
PRESEASON SCHEDULE (All Times Eastern):
Aug 7 - at San Diego, 10:00 PM Aug 16 - vs. Baltimore, 7:00 PM Aug 23 - at Miami, 7:00 PM Aug 28 - vs. Denver, 8:00 PM
07/17 11:31:42 ET