Cowboys putting '10 behind them

SAN ANTONIO -- Linebacker Bradie James had a simple explanation about what went wrong in 2010 for the Dallas Cowboys.

"It was us," James said. "But the thing was, it was a nightmare us -- and you can't do anything but build from that."

After a 6-10 season, the Cowboys will try to turn the page -- beginning with Thursday night's preseason opener against the Denver Broncos at Cowboys Stadium.

The first team will see limited action, just as it did in last year's Hall of Fame Game. The starters came away with a field goal in their only offensive possession, but it was not a sign of things to come. Out of 13 preseason possessions for the first team, the Cowboys scored just one touchdown, turned the ball over three times, punted six times, gained 20 first downs and kicked two field goals.

Then-coach Wade Phillips tried to downplay the significance of the shortcomings in the preseason, saying things would get better once the regular season began.

They didn't.

The Cowboys didn't earn their first win until Week 3 against the Houston Texans. Five more losses followed and, well, you know the rest.

Fast forward to now. The Cowboys are setting a different tone with coach Jason Garrett. He's telling his team to forget about what happened last season and concentrate on the here and now to improve each play, each practice, each day.

"We want to perform well all of the time," Garrett said. "Every practice we go out there, we want to be at our best. And certainly that holds true for preseason games regardless of which one it is."

The Cowboys come into the preseason minus starting cornerbacks Mike Jenkins (stinger) and Terence Newman (groin) and two starting offensive linemen -- center Andre Gurode (knee) and right guard Montrae Holland (back).

Starting inside linebacker Keith Brooking (hamstring) will also miss Thursday's game.

But there will still be plenty to watch.

Tony Romo will see his first game action since suffering a broken collarbone last October that ended his season.

New defensive coordinator Rob Ryan will make his debut, and rookie linemen Tyron Smith and David Arkin will see their first NFL game action.

The first-team offense will play one or possibly two series, but how it performs could set the tone not only the preseason but maybe the regular season as well.

Romo is key to the offensive success. He endured a dead arm during training camp, but doesn't have any such problems now. He's looked good throwing the deep ball and is making good decisions.

"This is exciting for me, just coming out and throwing it like I have," Romo said. "I think going forward you're always going to do little things, but the ball wants to come out nice, fast, hard. And [to] be able to grab it and be able to throw it 20 yards and be accurate, you know, it's exciting."

He will have to carry that over into the preseason and -- the Cowboys hope -- throughout the regular season.

Calvin Watkins covers the Cowboys for ESPNDallas.com.