Welcome to beautiful Oxnard, California, where the weather is perfect (I'm writing this on a 70-degree morning while sitting on a bench overlooking the ocean) and the only thing that gets me more fired up than a Pacific Ocean breeze is this: football season is here.
The Dallas Cowboys will open training camp with their first official practice of the 2014 season Thursday, beginning the journey to what they hope is the franchise's first playoff season since 2009.
Here are three questions I'll be looking to find the answers to over the next three weeks following the team:
1. How's your back Tony... really? The Cowboys quarterback isn't given enough credit for the way he finished the 2013 season -- leading Dallas to a road win in our nation's capital while a back injury that would eventually require surgery barely allowed him to walk after the game (you should have seen him hobble to the podium for his postgame press conference). That said, with Kyle Orton now enjoying the early dinners and discounted green fees of retirement, I think it's safe to say -- the Cowboys season comes down to if Romo is able to play 16 games. Brandon Weeden may not have been given a fair shake with the problems in Cleveland while he was there, but that's not a theory the Cowboys are hoping to have to test at any point this season. I, and every other writer, photographer, and radio show host in Oxnard will be watching every move Tony Romo makes to see -- how's your back, Tony... really?
2. Who is William Wallace? Leadership is so important in professional sports (in life, really). So, when the Cowboys decided to allow DeMarcus Ware and Jason Hatcher leave in free agency and then Sean Lee went down with a knee injury in offseason workouts, it left me wondering -- who is playing the role of Mel Gibson in Braveheart on this squad? You know, the guy rocking the blue face paint that every other person on the field is looking to when times are tough? Typically, that position on an NFL team is earned, and the training camp grind is fertile ground for a player looking to grow respect from his teammates. So, which of the Cowboys players wants to become William Wallace?
3. Is "the process" actually making progress? I've invented a fun little game here in Oxnard. I'm going to count the number of times Jason Garrett says the word, "process," in his press conferences during training camp. The over/under is 500. The Cowboys head coach has been preaching the "it's a process" message consistently since he took over as head coach. I think that philosophy, along with eating an elephant one spork bite at a time, makes for a a great speech and is logical. But speeches, messages and inspirational posters with pictures of lighthouses on the wall mean nothing if the recipients aren't really listening. It's no secret: this is a must-win year for Jason Garrett and the Cowboys. He's survived and advanced as Jerry Jones' head man in a way that would make the writers from the Fast and Furious series proud. But I want to see if players are listening during this training camp. I mean really listening. Because if they're not engaged and fired up by what Garrett's preaching in late July? That's a very bad sign for what's to come in November and beyond. So, is "the process" really making progress?