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DALLAS Cowboys ready to open training camp

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WICHITA FALLS, Texas (AP) _ The way Dallas Cowboys coach Dave Campo sees it, the only thing worse than going 5-11 last season was spending the past seven months thinking about it.

Campo finally gets a fresh start Saturday with the opening of training camp for the 2001 season. He'll jump right into two-a-day practices Sunday.

``I'm excited,'' Campo said. ``To be honest with you, the offseason is awfully long, especially when you have a poor season.''

Dallas went through a pretty long offseason, too, as the team cut ties to several more links to its championship years.

Troy Aikman was by far the most prominent player released, retired or not re-signed. Erik Williams, Chad Hennings, Leon Lett also left, as did Alonzo Spellman, a starter the past two years.

The shakeup left the Cowboys with about one-third of their salary cap wasted on former players, making them mostly spectators in free agency. They also were without a first-round draft pick and came away with few rookies expected to contribute immediately.

While that sounds like a recipe for another agonizing season, team owner Jerry Jones disagrees. He's predicted a 10-6 finish, which would be Dallas' best in three years.

Campo isn't putting a number on his expectations, but he is confident things aren't as bad as they seem.

``We're going to be a better football team than we were last year,'' Campo said. ``And that's based on knowing the athletic talent we have.''

Campo said one of his preseason goals is to make sure his team has a workman's attitude. He wants them ``to be a professional football team that shows up every day with a lunch pail in their hand, ready to go to work.''

To help encourage that attitude, Campo has scheduled 11 straight days of practices in the broiling heat of Wichita Falls before the first break, a travel day to Oakland for the exhibition opener on Aug. 4.

There is some respite in the camp-opening streak: three days of specials-teams-only work. Those drills are usually limited to rookies and others needing to make a good impression.

``I expect our first two weeks of training camp to be a little bit like the Bataan Death March,'' Campo said. ``We're going to find out who wants to play football.''

Another goal is to maximize the time spent in Wichita Falls. The Cowboys have only four more days there after playing the Raiders, then head to the cooler climate of Oxnard, Calif., for two weeks.

``We need the heat for the conditioning, then to take that break will be good,'' Campo said. ``The key is that you're changing a little bit of the continuity of camp. But I really believe it will be a positive from a focus standpoint, because it will force our guys to refocus on what we need to do to finish camp.''
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