Is This The Year The Cowboys Rise Above Mediocrity?

We know that there are some of you that only like to talk about football during the season — and, at that, for just three hours on Sunday and for a few minutes by the water cooler on Monday mornings. But then there are The Others, like us, who are already taking a peek at NFL Futures and beginning to make predictions for Week 1. Hey, it's only 37 days off.

Here's what we know already: Some folks expect the Cowboys to go 9-7 this year. And, yeah, that's close enough to the general consensus out in Vegas, where most sports books have set the over/under for the the team's win total at 8.5.

But, listen, with starters Tony Romo, Jason Witten, DeMarcus Ware, Dez Bryant, Miles Austin, Sean Lee, DeMarco Murray and newcomer Brandon Carr at the top of the depth charts heading into training camp, we like think this team's got a shot to top those predicted totals.

And since today was, after all, the first official day of the team's training camp out in Oxnard, California, we figure it's high time we took a closer look at the team's changes during the offseason.

With Laurent Robinson gone to Jacksonville, there's a wide-open competition for the third receiver spot. Of the players on the roster currently being considered, only Kevin Ogletree has taken a down in the NFL. The assumption, of course, is that the Cowboys will go out and sign another free agent wideout by the end of camp to fill that role. Sorry, Ogletree.

• Defensive back Mike Jenkins, the team's best corner last year, has dropped to third on the Cowboys' depth chart. And he's kind of pissed about it — so much so that he demanded a trade after the signings of Brandon Carr and first-round draft pick Morris Claiborne (who the Cowboys even traded up to select with the sixth overall pick in this summer's NFL Draft). But if stays, the Cowboy's long-term weakness in the defensive backfield could become a strength, especially in defensive coordinator Rob Ryan's packaging systems.

• Safety Brodney Pool signed a one-year deal this year, and is expected to lead the competition to play alongside Gerald Sensabaugh at the position. Fourth-round pick Matt Johnson and third-year man Barry Church are expected to give him a run for his money.

• The Cowboys' 2011 offensive line was smaller, younger and more mobile than in years past. But that doesn't mean they were any better. Center Phil Costa's snaps were downright scary at times last year, and Bill Nagy broke his leg. But tackle Tyrone Smith performed excellently in his rookie season, and on the right side of the line, there's Doug Free, who can hopefully rebound and return to form. There are still some questions, though, about the free agent signings of veteran guards Mackenzy Bernadeau and Nate Livings. Bernadeau is starting his tenure with the team on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) roster, and backup guard Kevin Kowalski just had hip surgery.

• Dez Bryant has been officially named as the special teams' designated punt returner this year. Hey, that's great football-related news, which we want more of out of this guy.

Photo via WikiCommons.

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