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With offseason program starting, Cowboys begin chemistry test

FRISCO, Texas -- A recurring theme from the Dallas Cowboys' success in 2016 was their chemistry.

Whether the winning led to the chemistry or the chemistry led to the winning is an unanswerable question, but the Cowboys clearly believed in it.

On Monday, the Cowboys officially start their offseason program at The Star, but for the better part of a month a number of players have been at the facility for unofficial captains' practices.

Phase 1 of the offseason program is really no different than what the players have been going through, except now there can be official contact with the strength and conditioning coaches. Players can go through strength and conditioning work as well as rehab for two weeks.

Phase 2 lasts three weeks with players and coaches interacting for the first time in teaching sessions on the field, but the offense and defense cannot work against each other.

The Cowboys will begin Phase 3 of the program on May 23 and have three weeks of organized team activities (10 practices total) followed by the only mandatory event of the offseason: the June veteran minicamp. There is no contact or pads, but the offense and defense can go through one-on-one, seven-on-seven and 11-on-11 drills.

A year ago the Cowboys credited their offseason work for their camaraderie that led them through difficult times in the season. Head coach Jason Garrett believes players who work together will stick together. The Cowboys dealt with injuries beyond the compression fracture suffered by Tony Romo in the preseason last year and still succeeded. Left tackle Tyron Smith, wide receiver Dez Bryant, cornerbacks Orlando Scandrick and Morris Claiborne and left guard La'el Collins missed significant time last year, but the Cowboys felt the work put in through May and June served them well from September on.

While a lot of the Cowboys' free-agent signings have been at The Star for the captains' workouts, the start of the offseason program allows players like Nolan Carroll II, Stephen Paea, Damontre Moore and Byron Bell to get used to how the Cowboys do business in an official way.

The workouts will also allow players coming back from missing last season, like Jaylon Smith and Charles Tapper, to get on the field away from the rehab process. Players like DeMarcus Lawrence (back) Tyrone Crawford (shoulder), who are coming back from offseason surgeries, should be able to step up their work.

The Cowboys will also be on the lookout for new leaders to emerge.

The Cowboys have lost Romo, Barry Church and Brandon Carr to either the CBS Sports booth or free agency. Those three played significant roles and also had solid leadership voices that will be missed.

Jason Witten and Sean Lee have the largest voices on either side of the ball, but Dak Prescott and Bryant will have the opportunity to grow into larger roles, as well as third-year safety Byron Jones. The type of leader Garrett believes is best are those who lead by example. It's not about how much weight is lifted or how fast they run, but how dedicated they are to the process.

Monday officially starts the process.

If the Cowboys can follow up their 2016 success with as much or more success in 2017, they will point back to the work they put in during March, April and May.