That long-awaited drought between the final gun of the Super Bowl and the start of the next season is over for those football-crazed NFL fans as training camps begin this week for most teams, signaling the start of another exciting season of professional football.

Most of the NFL teams already have held their respective orientation for the rookies and free agents who hope to don the pads and jerseys of the teams who either drafted them or invited them to the pre-season training camps.

The number of NFL hopefuls at each site is close to 100, with nearly half of them being sent home or to another camp before the regular season kicks off in early September.

All teams—except the World Champion Baltimore Ravens—will be striving to fix whatever weaknesses they had that prevented them from winning last year’s Super Bowl.

Many teams would be happy to have the talent that would just get them to the NFL playoffs at the end of the regular season.

One of those teams is the Dallas Cowboys, which missed out making the playoffs in each of the last two seasons with losses to NFC East rivals in the final game of the regular schedule.

Team owner Jerry Jones opened his 25th training camp last weekend by giving a vote of confidence to Head Coach Jason Garrett during his annual “State of the Cowboys” address. Many times that is the “kiss of death” to a coach. But Jones insists he’s okay with Garrett finishing 8-8 in each of the last two seasons.

The flamboyant owner announced a few weeks into the off-season that he was going to make things “uncomfortable” and then followed up by firing defensive coordinator Rob Ryan and replacing him with 73-year old Monte Kiffin and removing the play-calling duties from Garrett and giving them to offensive assistant Bill Callahan.

Jones is trying to lift the team back to its championship status after going 128-128 since the start of the 1997 season. And much of that burden falls on quarterback Tony Romo, who didn’t take a snap during the off-season because of a procedure to remove a cyst from his back in April.

Romo tried to cram a full off-season of conditioning into the last six weeks, including what he called “boot camp” training in California during the week-and-a-half before his teammates joined him at the Oxnard, CA. training site.

Meanwhile a couple hundred miles south of Dallas on IH 45, the Houston Texans are working to improve getting past the second game of the NFL playoffs that has ended their seasons for the past two years.

Many Texan fans and even members of the media are placing the blame squarely on the shoulders of starting quarterback Matt Schaub, who they feel like failed to secure the home-field advantage for the entire NFL playoffs last season as Houston lost three of its final four regular-season games.

But these critics, who believe Schaub really let them down when the Texans suffered a pair of lop-sided losses to the New England Patriots at Foxborough, MA. 33 days apart last season, forget it was Schaub who led them to an 11-1 record to start that 2012 season.

The team is 20-8 over the last two seasons when Schaub started at quarterback and 22-10 over the last two seasons, which is tied for second best in the AFC. Only four NFL teams have more playoff victories than the Texans over the past two seasons.

Houston has 13 Pro Bowl players on their 2013 roster, which is second only to the San Francisco 49ers.

But the main concern of Head Coach Gary Kubiak when the two-a-day practices begin Friday is getting all of the injured players healthy. Kubiak’s philosophy is to bring them along slowly, even if they’re 100 per cent. He also needs to replace all of the players they lost the last two seasons, including starters Kevin Walter and Shaun Cody.

The Texans will face their most recent nemesis, the New England Patriots, at Reliant Stadium this season. Houston won the last time the Patriots played at Reliant Stadium.

And while on the subject of the New England Patriots, many NFL fans look at them as the epitome of a professional football organization. But in reality, the Pats have appeared in five Super Bowls since 2001 under Head Coach Bill Belichick, but it has been eight seasons since they last claimed the Lombardi Trophy.

The Patriots are so desperate to get back on top that they agreed to let wide receiver Wes Welker become a free agent, despite the fact he had an amazing 672 receptions over the past six seasons, but never stamped himself into the franchise’s championship ledger.

And with Welker gone to the Denver Broncos and tight end Aaron Hernandez released from his $40 million contract after being jailed without bail in connection with the June 17 killing of  27-year-old Odin Lloyd, the Patriots’ passing game appears to be the main focal point of this year’s training camp.

The Pats also let reserve running back Danny Woodhead opt for free agency but picked up LeGarrette Blount in a trade with Tampa Bay and free agent Leon Washington from Seattle to replace him. They also signed free agent wide receiver Danny Amendola to replace Welker.

The one thing that should help New England the most is the continuity of Belichick’s coaching staff, including coordinators Josh McDaniels (offense/quarterbacks) and Matt Patricia (defense) plus special teams coach Scott O’Brien.

KWICKIES…Former West Orange-Stark standout wide receiver Mark Roberts left the University of Houston after two years and has transferred to Lamar University in Beaumont where he plans on playing wide receiver and kick returner for the Cardinal football team this fall. Roberts had 19 receptions for 250 yards and a touchdown in his two years as a Houston Cougar.

The top three draft choices for the Houston Texans—receiver DeAndre Hopkins, safety D. J. Swearinger and offensive tackle Brennan Williams— signed their contracts Monday when they began their conditioning program with the team this week. Number one draft pick Hopkins signed a four year contract worth $7.626 million.

Surprise! Surprise! Nobody thought Phil Mickelson had a ghost of a chance to win last weekend’s British Open except Lefty, himself, as he fashioned a beautiful five-under par 66 Sunday to walk away with that Claret Jug by three strokes. Mickelson was the ONLY golfer to finish under par, while Henrik Stenson was even par for the 72-hole event. At 43 years old, Mickelson was the oldest golfer to win since Roberto de Vicenzo in 1967 at age 44. He needs only to win the U.S. Open to complete a career Grand Slam and join Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods, Ben Hogan, Gary Player and Gene Sarazen as well as pre-Masters-era winner Bobby Jones. Great Britain’s own Lee Westwood was the 54-hole leader at three-under par with Woods and Hunter Mahan two behind at one-under. Westwood finished tied for third place at one over, Tiger was tied for sixth at two over and Mahan was tied for ninth at three over par.

Six items, including two NBA championship rings that Kobe Bryant gave to his parents, sold for $433,531 last weekend at an auction that supported one of Bryant’s charities. The other items included Bryant’s 2000 NBA championship ring, two game-worn uniforms from high school and a medallion and ribbon from the 1996 Magic Roundball Classic.

JUST BETWEEN US…It looks as if the feeble Houston Astros are running up the white flag by ending their $21 million experiment more than a month earlier than they planned by shipping out under-performing veterans Carlos Pena and Ronny Cedeno for assignment and bringing up top prospects shortstop Jonathan Villar and right-handed pitcher Jarred Cosart from Oklahoma City. The Astros have lost five consecutive games through Sunday and 17 of their last 21 and could have at least 70 losses before Aug. 1. And don’t be surprised if today’s start against the Oakland A’s will be the last one for ace pitcher Bud Norris in a Houston Astros’ uniform as the July 31 trading deadline rapidly approaches.