OXNARD, Calif. (AP) Jerry Jones says he learned a lesson last year building his hopes around the return of missing stars when the Cowboys tumbled to 4-12 in a season marred by injuries to Tony Romo and Dez Bryant.
That doesn't mean the Dallas owner is ready to dump Rolando McClain even though the enigmatic linebacker will be suspended the first 10 games on a substance-abuse violation, stayed away from the team most of the offseason and hasn't reported to training camp in California.
''There are many nuances that, basically, would mitigate that clean a shot, right there,'' Jones said Friday on the eve of the first practice of camp. ''I don't even want to start down them because some of them compromise our team or compromise other aspects of it.''
Jones figures he helped compromise the Cowboys last year when they were defending NFC East champions before losing Romo to a fractured left collarbone a week after his star receiver, Bryant, broke his right foot in the opener.
Dallas didn't win a game without the injured duo - losing seven straight minus Romo - yet still believed it had a shot after winning in Romo's return. A blowout loss to Carolina on Thanksgiving, when Romo broke the same collarbone again, ended most of those hopes.
And Jones says he won't harbor such dreams again.
''We got a doctor's degree in it. We went to Harvard Business School over it,'' Jones said at his annual pre-game news conference. ''Living in `They're coming back next week or next month' doesn't work. You don't win but four games doing that in the NFL, so we're not going there.''
Jones maintains that the Cowboys were prepared for the offseason suspensions that claimed three projected starters in McClain and young defensive ends Randy Gregory and DeMarcus Lawrence, who got matching four-game bans.
All three were disciplined under the substance-abuse policy, and Gregory is facing a longer suspension over another failed test.
So Jones emphasized the positive as much as he could before yielding to what he knew would be a wave of questions that weren't.
''We are not going to let a few setbacks, a few notable setbacks, deter the fact that we are fortunate,'' Jones said. ''We have many assets and we're going to put them on the playing field and win ballgames with them.''
McClain and Gregory were headed for the reserve-did not report list, with Gregory skipping camp while in drug rehab. Jones has said he doesn't expect Gregory to be in California. Lawrence reported for camp but is likely to be limited early after offseason back surgery.
All three are eligible for preseason work, including games. The suspensions don't start until the first week of the regular season.
Meantime, the Cowboys aren't too keen on suggestions that they've become oblivious to issues of character.
''Are we always right? No,'' coach Jason Garrett said. ''One of the jobs we have is to provide the right structure, the right assistance to bring out the best out in guys. It's always a work in progress. But I love the culture of our team. I love the character of our team.''
Besides Romo and Bryant, the Cowboys are expecting a boost from cornerback Orlando Scandrick, who sat out last season after tearing two ligaments in his right knee late in camp. A defense that struggled to make game-changing plays missed his edgy persona as much as his playmaking.
But the pass rush was a question even before the Cowboys lost Gregory and Lawrence to suspensions. They didn't address the rush end spot until the third round in the draft (Oklahoma's Charles Tapper), but did lure Benson Mayowa away from Oakland on an offer sheet.
Dallas also tried to shore up its interior defensive line by signing Cedric Thornton away from division rival Philadelphia.
''The whole defensive line is going to be, to me, very interesting to watch,'' executive vice president of personnel Stephen Jones said. ''We like what we see there and we think we have some good young players who have a chance to step up.''
NOTES: The Cowboys will start camp with three players will be on the non-football injury list, including two on freak accidents. RB Darren McFadden broke an elbow trying to save a dropped cellphone this spring, and LB Damien Wilson injured an eye in a paintball accident about a week before camp. ... Four players are headed to the physically unable to perform list: Mayowa (knee), LB Lance Dunbar (knee), rookie DT Maliek Collins (foot) and TE James Hanna (knee).
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