Dallas Cowboys

Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said he expects the Cowboys to be a much better team this season. They open training camp today.

OXNARD, Calif. — Jerry Jones expects the Dallas Cowboys to make significant strides in pursuit of their first Super Bowl since the 1995 season.

Back on stage for nearly an hour ahead of the start of training camp, the Cowboys owner and general manager was in his element during a free-wheeling press conference Wednesday in which much of his optimism centered on progress regarding COVID-19 vaccinations.

Jones said only five of the 90 players the Cowboys brought to training camp are not yet “in the pipeline” to receive some form of vaccine.

“There’s not one thing that this issue of vaccine as it pertains to the COVID that in any way, relative to the other 31 teams in the NFL, will put us at a competitive disadvantage,” said Jones, whose team will play Pittsburgh in the Hall of Fame game Aug. 5.

The team’s vaccination status came into the spotlight after former Cowboys wide receiver Michael Irvin said the failure to have at least 85 percent of players vaccinated meant they were not committed to winning. NFL teams are allowed to operate with relaxed COVID protocols after reaching that threshold.

Jones said he understood the competitive spirit behind Irvin’s comments and indicated the three-time Super Bowl winner and Hall of Fame inductee’s comments may have helped spur some players to get vaccinated.

“Well, Michael Irvin is the best example that I know of how much will and how much body language and how much heart and sacrifice mean to winning championships. He is that. And so when he talks, I listen. I know that,” Jones said. “And I think he has a good reputation with the current group of players because of his visibility and his activity with the network and where he is as an individual, so he comes with all the credibility in the world.”

With vaccinations addressed, Jones turned his focus to on-field concerns, of which the Cowboys have plenty after going 6-10 in the miserable NFC East last season.

Quarterback Dak Prescott is expected to participate fully in training camp after sustaining a compound fracture of his right ankle in Week 5 last season. Running back Ezekiel Elliott, who has been showing off his improved physique on social media, should find more running room behind a healthier offensive line after setting career lows in yards rushing (979) and touchdowns (nine) last season.

The defense has a new coordinator in former Atlanta head coach Dan Quinn and new personnel headlined by linebacker Micah Parsons, who was drafted 12th overall. The defense has to make significant headway after allowing 29.6 points per game despite finishing tied for seventh in the league in takeaways.

Overall, Jones sees parallels between the top of his current roster and those from the teams in the early 1990s that won three titles in four years.

“When you look at our top 10-11 paid guys, they’re guys that can make major contributions to this team,” he said. “We had a core base like that in those championship years.”

The hunger Jones has for returning to the Super Bowl in football was evident as the 78 year-old mused about the financial and metaphysical considerations he would commit to make it happen.

“The facts are that I would right now, if I could and I knew that I had a good chance to do it, I’d do anything known to man to get in a Super Bowl,” Jones said.

The return to California for training camp — after scuttling those plans last year because of the pandemic — seemed to put Jones at ease.

“What you’re seeing is just how good it feels to be here,” he said. “Doggone, just as much as I enjoy this stuff, I get to thinking, ‘Well, are you ever going to see that again? Are you ever going to be sitting up there talking to everybody again?’ I’m not going to apologize, but I am sensitive today and emotional about the whole show.”

NOTES: The Cowboys completed the signings of their draft class before the first practice by getting deals done with two of their three third-round picks in defensive end Chauncey Golston and cornerback Nahshon Wright. . . . Veteran cornerback Rashard Robinson was released before the team traveled to California. The NFL suspended Robinson for the first two games of the regular season for violating the league’s policy on performance-enhancers.