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2012 training camp preview: Dallas Cowboys

The SportsXchange

More NFC East training camp previews: Eagles | Giants | Redskins

Training camp goals

1. The Cowboys need to find a way to come to some peaceful accord with cornerback Mike Jenkins who has asked for a trade. The Cowboys did right for the team when they signed free agent Brandon Carr and drafted LSU standout Morris Claiborne to improve a secondary that was among the worst in team history the past two years. But Jenkins, who showed toughness and heart last year while playing through injuries went from a starter and former Pro Bowler to third cornerback at best. He is in his contract year and believes the Cowboys have hurt his value. The Cowboys need him to buy in to reach their potential because you never have too many quality corners. They also don't need a distraction in camp.

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The Cowboys had trouble executing Rob Ryan's defensive schemes last season. (AP)

2. The Cowboys need to master Rob Ryan's defense. They were unable to do that last year because of the lockout. It was a problem throughout the season as the Cowboys were plagued by missed assignments and confusion. "When we look back at ourselves and re-evaluate, I think I started a little too fast," Ryan said. "I think I put a little too much in and too fast. And we didn't have any basics. We had no foundation." Ryan has gone about the business of re-teaching his defense throughout the offseason in OTAs and minicamp. He plans to continue the process in camp.

Player to watch

Running back DeMarco Murray gave the Cowboys a glimpse of things to come in 2011 when he rushed for 897 yards, averaging 5.5 yards per carry in an abbreviated rookie season that began as a third-stringer and ended with him on injured reserve. Still, the Cowboys saw enough to declare him the team's best all-around back since Hall of Famer Emmitt Smith retired. Dallas is looking at Murray as a cure for its  ailing running game that scored just five rushing touchdowns last season. Murray is healthy from the fractured ankle that cut his season short after eight starts last year and he's raring to have an even better sophomore campaign. Rushing for 1,200 or more yards is a possibility if he can stay healthy all season.

[Related: Ex-Cowboy Terrell Owens pays back child support]

On the hot seat

Brodney Pool signed with the Cowboys as a free agent to take Abram Elam's place in the revolving door that has been the team's free safety position. Ken Hamlin started in 2009, Alan Ball in 2010 and Elam in 2011. Pool was supposed be the guy in 2012, but he was unimpressive in minicamp and OTAs and could lose the job to Barry Church or rookie Matt Johnson in training camp. If Pool doesn't win the starting job he will likely not make the team. His advantage is he is familiar with Ryan's system from their days in Cleveland. But Church and Johnson are younger, more athletic and could make more plays. Pool made no plays in minicamp. Strong safety Gerald Sensabaugh, the lone returning starter in the secondary, could be slow out of the gate after a minor procedure on his knee in July.

Strategy and personnel

• The Cowboys have six of their seven draft picks under contract. The lone exception is top pick Morris Claiborne, the sixth overall pick in the draft. The Cowboys are confident they will have Claiborne done and ready before the start of camp.

"I'm not worried about [the contract] right now," Claiborne said. 

• Because teams were limited in how much they could pay undrafted rookie free agents in signing bonuses, the Cowboys got creative like some other teams and guaranteed portions of their salaries. No one got more than guard Ronald Leary, who the Cowboys raved about as someone with an opportunity to compete for the starting job.

Leary got a $9,000 signing bonus and was guaranteed $205,000 of his $390,000 rookie base salary.

Full Cowboys team report

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