SAN ANTONIO — Terence Newman is the self-proclaimed "old man of the group" in the Dallas Cowboys' secondary. The Pro Bowl cornerback has actually been around so long he is almost the old man on the team.
Backup quarterback Jon Kitna and linebacker Keith Brooking, both in only their second season with the Cowboys, are the only teammates older than Newman, who turns 32 the weekend before the regular season starts next month. The only player who has been on the Dallas roster longer than the eighth-year cornerback is Andre Gurode, the four-time Pro Bowl center in his ninth season but six months younger.
"He gets a little better with age," secondary coach Dave Campo said, referring to Newman. "Experience, he's focused more this year again and because he's the one guy that's been here the longest, now he perceives himself more of the leader of the group. I think it's showing in his play the way he's going about the little things."
That is good for the Cowboys since Newman, coming off his second Pro Bowl selection in three seasons, is surrounded by a bunch of young defensive backs. Of the 13 other defensive backs on the roster, six are rookies. Safety Gerald Sensabaugh is the only other one who has played more than 32 games, the equivalent of two full seasons.
Newman and the veteran starters on both sides of the ball got a break Sunday morning, when only rookies and backup players came out in shorts and no pads for the first workout of the day. The afternoon practice included the full squad without pads.
While Newman has no problem saying something when it needs to be said, he prefers to lead by example.
"I have a sense of how tough the game, the game, really is," Newman said. "I've got a sense of what the game is about, and we haven't sniffed the Super Bowl yet."
The Cowboys last season won a playoff game for the first time since 1996, a season after their last Super Bowl. The defense allowed the fewest points in the NFC.
Dallas returns 20 of 22 starters overall, 10 each on offense and defense. Safety Ken Hamlin and left tackle Flozell Adams were both released on the same day.
Coach Wade Phillips, also the defensive coordinator, senses excellent chemistry among the defensive backs. Phillips said a big reason for that is Campo, the longest-tenured defensive back.
"Our secondary guys have gotten just markedly better this year. The young guys are coming along quicker, the techniques are better," Phillips said. "Terence is telling them all the right things. ... It does help when the player says exactly what the coach says, and then you're getting the same thing from them."
Newman has started 101 of his 103 games at Dallas but his first Pro Bowl appearance didn't come until 2007, his fifth season coming during Phillips' debut in Dallas. After being limited to 10 games in 2008 because of a sports hernia and groin injury, Newman started all 16 games for the fifth time in his career last season and got another trip to Hawaii.
"He was a guy with a lot of ability and did some good things, but I think he's stepped up his game," Phillips said. "I think he's playing better now than he has since we've had him."
The Cowboys got Newman with the fifth overall pick in 2003. That was the same draft they got tight end Jason Witten and linebacker Bradie James as part of a rookie class that included undrafted free agent quarterback Tony Romo, who is the oldest of that trio after turning 30 in April.
Newman's birthday is Sept. 4, a day before offensive lineman Leonard Davis turns 32 and eight days before the season opener at Washington. Kitna, who didn't take a snap as Romo's backup last season, will be 38 next month and Brooking will turn 35 during his 13th NFL season.
Newman is signed through 2014 after a six-year contract extension following his first Pro Bowl season. Having all the young guys around now could mean a few less repetitions during the NFL's longest training camp this summer, which is fine with him.
"This is my eighth year, it's not like I don't understand what 'Cover 4' or whatever coverage we have, what I'm supposed to do," Newman said. "It's good for me. ... I'm the old man of the group."
NOTES: First-round pick Dez Bryant (high right ankle sprain), wearing a protective boot, stood with receivers coach Ray Sherman during passing drills. ... Rookie linebacker Sean Lee (quadriceps strain), the second-round pick, hasn't practiced in a week but said he felt fine running this weekend. Coach Wade Phillips said Lee could return Wednesday.