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OXNARD, Calif. -- When you talk about story lines for Dallas Cowboys training camp this year, there's none bigger than quarterback Tony Romo's health.

So all eyes were on No. 9 when he returned to the practice field in Oxnard Thursday.

Romo's on a pitch count and the offense and defense won't go against each other full speed until Saturday, so Romo didn't do as much as he could, but you can tell he can't wait.

'I'm excited about about going full-go here shortly,' Romo said. 'We'll be going against the defense within a day or two. I'm excited to go out there and and rip them a little bit.'

That's the kind of swagger and confidence Cowboys fans would like to hear with Romo coming off consecutive off-season back surgeries. Romo's 34 years old now and he joked about playing until he's 45.

He wasn't joking, though, when he talked about the level of play you can expect from him going forward.

'I feel, personally, like I've just started to come into the player that I wanted to be six or seven years ago,' the veteran signal caller said. 'I think over the course of the next four to five years, you'll see the best version of me I've had through my career.'

The Cowboys will need every bit of it. With the way this team is constructed, it appears the offense will have to carry the load while a relatively young defense tries to come of age.

That means Romo will have to be at or near his best. He said he's prepared for the challenge and ready to enjoy the journey.

'The older you get, the more you understand how precious and how lucky you are to play this game at the highest level and to be someone who can do some things,' Romo said.

What those things are will unfold as Romo enters his eighth full season as the Cowboys starter.

E-mail jtrahan@wfaa.com

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