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OXNARD, Calif. – Jerry Jones doesn't like to repeat his good sound bites, so he found a new way to say Jason Garrett isn't coaching for his job.
The Dallas Cowboys owner said Wednesday it wasn't a "make or break" season for Garrett, a year after opening training camp by declaring that last season wouldn't be "Armageddon" for his coach if the once-proud franchise missed the playoffs again.
The Cowboys have identical endings to all three full seasons under Garrett, losing to NFC East rivals to finish 8-8 and miss the playoffs.
This time, Garrett is in the final year of his contract. While he's not talking extension, Jones also isn't talking change.
"Did the record of 8-8, 8-8, 8-8 ... was that the factor? No," Jones said on the eve of the team's first camp practices. "In my mind he is more of an asset after this last 8-8 season than he was before the first 8-8 season we had three years ago."
In Jones' mind, that means Garrett is gaining experience since replacing Wade Phillips in the middle of the 2010 season. And the owner says he likes the continuity with Garrett going into his eighth season after he was hired as offensive coordinator before Phillips came on as coach in 2007.
"There's nobody that has a better feel for me than Jason, in terms of the relationship," Jones said. "We both know where our expectations are and when it's looking good and when it's looking dire. And I don't expect it to be the latter."
In other words, Jones isn't resigning himself to missing the playoffs a fifth straight time. Dallas hasn't done that since 1990, when the Cowboys entered his second year as owner coming off a two-year mark of 4-28.
"I don't want to have to stomach it," Jones said. "Let's put it like that."
Still, Jones was a bit cautious with his optimism, using his opening statement to point out that roughly half of the 90-man camp roster includes players who weren't with the Cowboys a year ago.
He also likes to say Dallas has gone from one of the oldest teams in the league to one of the youngest. Some might call that rebuilding. Not Jones.
"It's not about next year," Jones said. "I think we've got the fundamentals to compete and compete right now, and the decisions we've made are that."
The biggest decision was releasing franchise sacks leader DeMarcus Ware on the first day of free agency in March. The Cowboys hope to fill the void by finding quality in the large quantity of defensive linemen in camp.
Dallas also is looking for a replacement for Sean Lee at middle linebacker after he tore a knee ligament in the first offseason practice.
The offense is counting on a healthy Tony Romo, and Garrett said he would be ready "for all aspects" of camp.
The Cowboys will ease into workouts, even scrapping their traditional conditioning test to try to cut down on a two-year plague of injuries that helped wreck two of the worst defenses in franchise history. And that's one of the areas where Garrett figures he can be better.
"We want to evaluate how we used our players, what we asked them to do and how we can do stuff better," Garrett said. "So I can give you 50 examples of that, coverages we play, what we're doing up front with our guys, techniques we're using at the different levels of our defense. And we implemented all that stuff in the offseason."
So Garrett starts the process of trying to break out of his personal 8-8 rut for a franchise with a .500 record going back 17 years.
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