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IRVING Labor Day was no holiday for the Dallas Cowboys.

Instead, it was the first day where their focus was on nothing but preparations for the season opener.

For head coach Jason Garrett, it's a culmination of a long off-season.

"I don't think it's a nervous week, it's an exciting week," Garrett said. "You know there were a lot of decisions that we have had to cut our team down, make trades, and put the best 53 guys together. I feel good about the group we put together and excited about the opportunity this week."

That opportunity starts with a chance to improve on back-to-back 8-8 seasons.

"Last year is last year," said Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray. "Me personally, I'm not focusing on last year, whatever it was. That's in the back of mind. I'm looking forward, looking to get things kicked off right here."

"I feel our leadership around here has definitely changed since last year," said Cowboys cornerback Morris Claiborne. "Guys are really stepping up, being vocal, and also doing it out on the practice field."

When the Cowboys take the field on Sunday night, they'll do so with eight rookies. In fact, the entire draft class of 2013 is on the opening day roster, including center Travis Frederick, who is getting ready for his first NFL start.

"Playing a game is playing a game," Frederick said. "It's a great opportunity, whether it's preseason or regular season. Obviously, it's a little bit more important per se, now that it's regular season, [but] anytime you get a chance to play a game, you need to go out and play your hardest."

Frederick switched from wearing No. 70 to 72, while rookie running back Joseph Randle also switched numbers from 35 to 21.

"It doesn't matter what number you've got, it's how you wear it," Randle said. "I wore No. 1 in college, so it was easy to pick 21. I think we've got a dedicated group of rookies. We've all got the same mindset coming in and trying to help the team win. It's a hard-working group."

The Giants and the Cowboys have played four games in Arlington, and New York has won every time; so much for home field advantage on opening day.

"The Giants are a good football team," Garrett said. "We've had some great games with them. Regardless of where you play them, it's going to be a great challenge. We've had great battles with them at both stadiums."

E-mail griba@wfaa.com

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