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One day before their first workout, the Dallas Cowboys held their annual state of the team news conference Wednesday at training camp in Oxnard, California.

It didn't take long for team owner Jerry Jones to give head coach Jason Garrett a vote of confidence, saying this would not be a pivotal year for him.

'No, in terms of the record of this team, this is not a make-or-break situation for Jason and members of this staff,' Jones said. 'We obviously want to zero in on what we're doing this afternoon, and what we do the next day and the next day. I know firsthand that we've got a relationship. There is nobody that has a better feel for me than Jason. We both know where our expectations are, and when it's looking good or when it's looking dire. I don't expect it to be the latter.'

The Cowboys have had three straight 8-8 seasons. Garrett was asked where he has improved as a coach.

'Hopefully in all areas,' he said. 'We're always striving for improvement in everything we do. We talk a lot about this word 'process' with our football team. It applies to every one of us as players and coaches. Whatever we do, we're always trying to get better.'

Jones said he counted 47 new players in the meeting room earlier in the day. 'We have never had more faces and yet have the optimism that I have with those new faces,' the owner said.

Jones said he was very optimistic that he has a team that can pull together. He said that was evident when the team canceled the running test, yet members of the team decided to do it themselves.

'I like that. I like that kind of attitude,' Jones said. 'That makes me optimistic about our chances to compete and to compete right now. No, it really is not about next year. We've gone from being one of the older teams to being one of the younger teams.'

Garrett and his coaching staff did away with the traditional conditioning test, a day that was replaced with a simple run.

'The conditioning test is an age-old issue in the NFL,' Garrett said. 'I've done conditioning tests all of my life. I expressed this to our leadership at mini-camp that I was uncomfortable how training camp starts to do a conditioning test and go aggressively into practicing the first couple of days. I feel like it's a recipe for disaster. We've had some issues in the past here, so I told our players we weren't going to do that. Instead, we are going to have a team run.'

Garrett said the first day of practice will not have the offense facing the defense.

'The thing I made perfectly clear to our players is that it's going to be intense practice,' Garrett said. 'They're going to be stressed. There will be pressure on them. We're simply not going against each other. As much as anything else, it's to get their football legs and their football feet underneath them to get ready play football in a competitive environment.'

Jones started the news conference by sending his sympathy to the family of former Cowboys fullback Robert Newhouse, who passed away on Tuesday at the age of 64.

'He was the first former Cowboys player I invited to come in and be a part of our new regime when I bought the team,' Jones said. 'He had the respect of all the people in my organization.'

Jones became emotional and had to stop talking when he started talking about Denver Broncos owner Pat Bowlen, who announced that he is stepping down because of his battle with Alzheimer's.

'This is a sad day, it's sad,' Jones said.

E-mail griba@wfaa.com

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