OXNARD, Calif. -- Barry Church started reading The Maze Runner on the Dallas Cowboys' team charter Tuesday. The post-apocalyptic science fiction trilogy perhaps describes where the Cowboys have been.
After three consecutive 8-8 seasons, the Cowboys landed at Naval Air Station Point Mugu looking to find their way out of mediocrity and back into the playoffs. One online betting site gave the Cowboys 50-1 odds to win the Super Bowl, but the team remains hopeful.
"It's never too early to think (about the playoffs)," said Church, a starting safety. "That was our goal going into Day 1 of the off-season was to get to that goal of the Super Bowl. We have to get through that 8-8 rut, and we have to make the playoffs first. It starts one game at a time, and we're just going to focus that way."
Tuesday marked the first day of the rest of the season for the Cowboys, a stretch of 160 days from their arrival in California to the regular-season finale in Washington.
Coach Jason Garrett followed the cheerleaders off the American Airlines charter at 3:10 p.m. PDT, leading the other coaches and the players down the steps. They were greeted by a sunny, 73-degree day as 500 military families waited for photos and autographs.
Tony Romo's line snaked through the hangar, with fans asking over and over about the quarterback's surgically repaired back.
The Cowboys have a lot of questions to answer, and those begin at the first practice Thursday.
"It's great," center Travis Frederick said. "It's really great for us to get out here and really get a chance to do what we do in training camp. It's not always that you get to come to a place as nice as this and come out and start your year. I can tell there is a certain energy on the plane, guys are out here, and they're ready to go."
The players left the 100-degree heat of Valley Ranch behind but not before they took a conditioning test. After Garrett informed the players there wouldn't be a conditioning test, tight end Jason Witten and other veterans organized their own, and most players showed up in shape to run the required sprints without the presence of the coaches.
"It's a step forward as a group when the players get together and do something like that," Frederick said. "I think it shows that there's a level of maturity, that there's a level of work and level of expectations by the older guys. When you go out and do something like that, it's really showing the team is ready to step forward as a mature team. Coach says there is no conditioning test, we can easily just not do it and everybody is like, 'Oh, yeah, that's great. We don't have to do it.' But are you going to be ready? Are you ready to work? Are you ready to come out here and practice as hard as we practice to make ourselves into the caliber of team we want to be?"
Church said it shows the commitment players have this season.
"I feel like it's showing that the players are trying to make this team our own and go out there and have our own identity as a team and just combine together to see what we can get accomplished here in this upcoming season," he said.
Like the other 31 teams, the Cowboys arrived to training camp with excitement. They are ready to get the show on the road.
"My heart was racing. My mind was going all over the place," Church said. "Just getting ready to go out here and practice with my teammates and hopefully put up a better performance than we did last year."
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