Cowboys' trio part of new core

OXNARD, Calif. -- They came to the Dallas Cowboys a year apart: Dez Bryant in 2010, Tyron Smith and DeMarco Murray in 2011.

The trio represents what the Cowboys hope is their bright future, not a continuation of a three-year run of mediocrity.

Jason Witten and Tony Romo are entering their 12th seasons with the organization and serve as the team's leaders. It befits their accomplishments, tenure and status, but the Cowboys have slowly changed their core.

Only eight of the 90 players on the current training camp roster were on the team when Jason Garrett took over as interim coach in 2010. Bryant is the Cowboys' most dynamic player. Smith is their best player, regardless of position, taking that spot over from DeMarcus Ware. Murray is one of the most important.

In January, all three played in their first Pro Bowl.

"I think for all those guys, there's not harder workers and competitive guys than the guys you just mentioned," said Witten, whose nine Pro Bowls have been topped in team history only by Hall of Famers Bob Lilly, Larry Allen and Mel Renfro. "But I think for anybody, you do it [make the Pro Bowl] once you want to stack a bunch of these together. It gives you confidence that you can do it. These guys are elite players. They are ingrained in this system. They are committed to help turn this around. They want to be the best players they can be, but also help this team compete for a championship."

The Pro Bowl is a validation of individual talent. Witten would give up his Pro Bowls for playoff success. When Smith, Murray and Bryant met with Garrett after their Hawaii trip, they "said the same thing to me: ‘That was great, but we want to be in the big game. We want to be one of those teams,' " Garrett said.

That's why during special teams' portions of spring practices, Bryant caught balls from the Jugs machine off to the side. It's why Murray worked on hand placement on a blocking sled during the same period of practice. It's why Smith was one of the last to leave the field.

"There are levels of desire to be great, and you want guys to come in every day who want to be great and who demonstrate that each and every day," Garrett said. "We talk about that a lot, this desire to be a Dallas Cowboy playing in the National Football League. It's not about the guy that wants to put the jersey on, walk through the mall and send the hats to his family and friends and tell everybody you're a Dallas Cowboy and you're playing in the NFL. You need to demonstrate it each and every day. If you really, truly want to be great, you have to come to work every day with that mindset. Everything you do, take full advantage of it to try to make yourself be the best player you can be, and hopefully part of a team that can be the best they can be."

Smith prefers to be in the background, like most offensive linemen. He is considered by many to be one of the best left tackles in football. He will be paid handsomely by the Cowboys sooner rather than later. But he views his accomplishments differently.

"I just feel like it's not there yet," Smith said. "I feel like I've got a long way to go. You've got guys that are eight-time Pro Bowlers and things like that. I'm still at the beginning stage. I have a long way to go."

His linemates are not as shy.

"What makes Tyron great is his consistent ability to dominate every play," Mackenzy Bernadeau said. "Just his athletic ability for his size, his strength and his hard work, so when you're at that level and can do that consistently at such a young age, that's what makes Tyron great. And he works hard. He's well deserving of all he's getting."

Smith helped Murray to his first 1,000-yard season, finishing with 1,121 yards in 2013. This year Murray hopes to become the first Cowboys rusher since Emmitt Smith in 2001 to post back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons. The Cowboys are 11-0 when he gets 20 carries in a game.

Bryant's athletic ability was on display the minute he arrived. The rough edges of his game have been smoothed during his four years. He is the only Cowboys wide receiver with back-to-back 90-catch seasons. In the past two seasons, no receiver has more than Bryant's 25 touchdown catches.

As he enters his fifth season, Bryant is now the most senior voice at his position.

"My little saying that I go about it is you've got to love and respect the job you do," Bryant said. "If you do that, you're going to dominate. I love my job. I'm doing a better job of respecting it. That's what you do."

Because of the Cowboys' past, Smith, Bryant and Murray are matched against Hall of Famers like Allen, Rayfield Wright, Michael Irvin, Emmitt Smith and Tony Dorsett, and Ring of Honor member Drew Pearson.

They combined for 36 Pro Bowls, but more importantly, they were part of the Cowboys' five Super Bowl titles.

Winning drives these three.

"Yeah, that's it," Murray said. "That's the result, just straight winning. Yards, all that crap doesn't mean a thing. If we're winning, at the end of the day, that's what you play for."