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Cowboys preseason capsule

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DALLAS COWBOYS (8-8)

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OPEN CAMP: July 21

LAST YEAR: Cowboys lost to NFC East rival in playoffs-or-bust finale for second straight year. This time it was Redskins with 28-18 win that extended Dallas' postseason drought to three years and four of past five. Second straight 8-8 season extended remarkable run of mediocrity: Dallas is 128-128 since start of 1997 season.

IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: Rookies OL Travis Frederick, TE Gavin Escobar, WR Terrance Williams; defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin.

IMPORTANT LOSSES: RB Felix Jones, DT Marcus Spears, WR Kevin Ogletree, S Gerald Sensabaugh.

CAMP NEEDS: Cowboys have to decide if first-round pick Frederick is ready to be Tony Romo's center. Release of FB Lawrence Vickers a week before camp means Dallas will have to refine offense that often uses two tight ends. That also means establishing pecking order behind Jason Witten with second-round pick Gavin Escobar, veteran Dante Rosario and second-year player James Hanna. Jones' departure leaves no established backup to RB DeMarco Murray. Switching to 4-3 defense, DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer will continue transition to pure pass-rushing ends. After releasing Sensabaugh, Dallas has to settle on starters at safety with Barry Church and Matt Johnson coming off injuries.

EXPECTATIONS: Cowboys need to win now. Coach Jason Garrett's future probably depends on it. With offensive coordinator Bill Callahan taking over play-calling duties, Garrett can focus on game management, an occasional problem in each of his two full seasons. Romo has to show he deserved contract that made him highest-paid player in franchise history, with more guaranteed money than Super Bowl winner Joe Flacco got. If Dez Bryant continues to trend upward and Murray can stay healthy, Dallas can contend if the offensive line improves. Kiffin's defense is simpler than predecessor Rob Ryan's and is supposed to create more turnovers. Linebackers Sean Lee and Bruce Carter are being counted on as playmakers.

AP NEWS
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Copyright 2014
The Associated Press
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