- Chris Mortensen, NFL reporter
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SAN ANTONIO -- We had a blast Friday when Jerry Jones gave us a two-hour tour of Cowboys Stadium, the new Eighth Wonder of the Sporting World. Nothing we could put on video does the facility justice. Regardless of whether you are a Cowboys fan or hater, you need to see this place.
What stood out most? The HD-quality video screens that hang from the ceiling and face both sides and both end zones. Stunning stuff. The stadium is vast but intimate. It has so much space on the concourses that the Cowboys decided to sell thousands of $29 "party passes" -- game tickets that are standing-room-only but allow fans to move around and up and down to about two-thirds of the stadium.
We boarded the bus a little later than planned and didn't arrive until 4 a.m. at the Alamodome in San Antonio, where the Cowboys will conduct training camp for at least the next two summers. My cameraman, Rick Mickler, was so proud that he got a shot of the Alamo as we drove past it; of course, that allowed me to sleep well in the back of the bus.
We finally saw some football this morning as the Cowboys conducted the first of two practices in full pads.
In speaking with coaches before practice, I asked them whether there was truly anything different about this offseason and camp. Without any of them comparing notes, they basically had the same theme: It's all football. No distractions. Great chemistry.
They could have been referring to Terrell Owens' absence. They could have been referring to the HBO "Hard Knocks" scrutiny from a year ago. One thing that doesn't change is that the Cowboys always are a big draw with fans. There were more than 23,000 fans at both practices, including a Cowboys record 13,708 for the afternoon workout.
The proof is always in the regular season, but here's what I learned and observed Saturday:
Tony Romo is relaxed and sharp. The one thing people have never appreciated about Romo is that he is a gym rat when it comes to football. Even when he headed to those celebrity golf tournaments, he took a bag of footballs with him. Always has for as long as I've known him.
Roy Williams, acquired in October 2008 for first-, third- and sixth-round picks from the Lions, is more comfortable and healthier. He may not be an explosive receiver, but he is a big target with hands. One thing nobody ever grasped last year is that he was fighting through plantar fasciitis, a persistently painful foot injury.
The Cowboys are really excited about using tight ends Jason Witten, a Pro Bowler, and Martellus Bennett, who they believe will give them big plays downfield in his second year. He will create mismatches and open up the running game.
The Cowboys' most explosive player is running back Felix Jones, who averaged more than 8 yards per touch last year before he was injured in his rookie season. He's now 212 pounds and said he's faster than ever. He looked it. The Cowboys will use Jones, Marion Barber and Tashard Choice out of the backfield.
The offensive line is stout, anchored by center Andre Gurode, but depth is a huge worry, so a two-tight-end set will help.
DeMarcus Ware, who had 20 sacks last season, is ready to establish himself as the game's elite defensive player. The secondary will benefit, but keeping Terence Newman healthy at corner is a must. The Cowboys are pretty excited about ex-Jaguars safety Gerald Sensabaugh, who secondary coach Dave Campo said can cover the slot receiver, if necessary.
Head coach Wade Phillips isn't screaming and yelling, but the Cowboys' tempo in practice is much more intense. One player told me accountability is at an all-time high. And, yes, Phillips, is running the defense.
Chris Mortensen is a senior NFL analyst for ESPN.