Change of Pace

In another example of the relaxed atmosphere of the Cowboys under new coach Wade Phillips, following four years of the demanding Bill Parcells, voluntary practices are indeed voluntary.

A number of players have been absent from the Organized Team Activities, or OTAs.

Starting receivers Terrell Owens and Terry Glenn have been to just one practice the past two weeks.

Also missing practices were safety Roy Williams, cornerback Aaron Glenn, linebacker DeMarcus Ware, defensive tackle Jason Ferguson and running back Julius Jones.

The workouts were "mandatory voluntary" in past years, although league rules say that they are supposed to be voluntary.

Coaches are prohibited by league rules to inform the players that the workouts are anything but voluntary.

The Cowboys under Phillips have been by the book.

"I know Bill would get pissed," linebacker Bobby Carpenter said. "But we have more this year. And the coaches say it's strictly voluntary. They tell us every day it's voluntary. They thank us for coming and tell us how much they appreciate us being there."

"We've told the players that these workouts are voluntary, and I've been happy with the level of off-season work that we've received from all of the veterans to this point," Phillips said.

"On the OTAs, the thing we have stressed is communication," added Phillips. "We'd like for the guys to be here for as many of the workouts as they can, but if they are not able to make it, we want them to let us know in advance. To a man, that policy has been followed.

"We've had some players miss, but overall our attendance has been outstanding," Phillips continued. "When you're talking about more than 90 percent participation, you have to be pleased. When a veteran player is not here at this time of the year, I view it as an opportunity for a younger guy to get some very valuable reps."

ROMO UNDERSTANDING: QB Tony Romo can relate to Miss USA Rachel Smith. As a judge at the Miss Universe Pageant, Romo watched Smith fall down during the evening gown competition. Remember, it was Romo who dropped a snap during the Cowboys' wildcard loss to the Seahawks last year.

He said he was very impressed with how she got up and composed herself. She finished fourth.

"You feel bad for her at first, but she composed herself really well and when she got up, I gave her a little bit, probably better number just because of the way she composed herself when she got up," Romo said. "I can definitely understand when someone on a national stage doesn't do exactly what they wanted. She performed well, she got up and did a good job."

SPEARS SUFFERING: DE Marcus Spears mourns the death of his friend and former teammate, Patriots defensive end Marquise Hill. Spears played college football with Hill at LSU. The two were roommates.

Hill died last week when his jet ski crashed in Lake Pontchartrain, near his home in New Orleans.

"It's tough, man," Spears said. "It's just really tough. I'm still in shock, I guess. We all know death is something we've got to go through.

"But you're just never prepared for it, especially for a guy who's 24 years old and has a two-year old son. It's just tough."

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