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Romo center of attention as camp set to open

The SportsXchange

OXNARD, Calif. -- With a new approach to both offense and defense, but the same old lofty goals, the Dallas Cowboys open training camp Saturday and begin on-field practice Sunday.

As usual, quarterback Tony Romo is under the microscope, especially after signing a new $108 million contract, then being unable to take part in OTAs or minicamp while he recovered from minor surgery in April to have a noncancerous cyst removed from his back.

But he knows what is expected.

"Winning a Super Bowl is a challenge. I think it's the ultimate challenge," Romo said. "I think it's something that wakes me up and gets me excited in the morning, continuing to find a way to make that happen for the fans, for the organization and these players in here. It's something that sits there and you just constantly are trying to figure out a way to do that, through different ways."

One different way he will notice this year is that head coach Jason Garrett has given the play-calling duties to offensive line coach Bill Callahan. Well, technically, it seems owner Jerry Jones made that switch.

On defense, after the Cowboys set a team record for most yards yielded in a season, they dumped Rob Ryan and his 3-4 defense and hired 73-year old defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin, who installed a 4-3 scheme.

The biggest adjustment caused by that change is to DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer, who move from outside linebacker to defensive end.

Two key position battles that will begin in earnest Sunday are at right tackle on offense and free safety on defense.

Doug Free and Jermey Parnell split time at right tackle near the end of last season and will compete for the starting job on a line that needs to show improvement.

At free safety, Will Allen, Matt Johnson and J.J. Wilcox are in a wide-open skirmish for the starting job. Allen is the experienced veteran brought in for insurance because he is a career backup. Johnson was injured as a rookie last year and remains unknown and unproven. Wilcox is a 2013 third-round pick who has been impressive in OTAs and minicamp, but is very raw -- he played just one season of safety in college after moving from receiver.

While all those battles, and others, will be important to the success of the Cowboys, it will be Romo and the passing game that get the most attention of fans and media.

Although some -- most conspicuously Jones, the owner -- believe Romo's overall performance warranted that new contract, the key stat that hovers over him is that he has won only a single playoff game in his career.

This year the passing game is expected to improve if wildly talented wide receiver Dez Bryant is consistent and comes up with big plays at big moments. Romo's talented receivers also include Miles Austin and tight end Jason Witten.

But as Romo enters his eighth year in the NFL, the only thing guaranteed is $55 million of his contract.

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