Tony Romo has to be Cowboys' leader
With offensive line in flux, onus is on quarterback to point offense in right direction
IRVING, Texas -- A few years ago, Jerry Jones coined the phrase "Romo-friendly" when talking about the Dallas Cowboys' offseason plan.
This offseason that phrase can be shortened to just "Romo."
The Cowboys believe Romo's presence will help make Felix Jones a better running back, Dez Bryant a better wide receiver and Bill Nagy, Tyron Smith and Phil Costa better offensive linemen -- and as a result make the Cowboys a better team.
The Cowboys would not make these sorts of moves if they had a young quarterback still making his way in the NFL or, as Bill Parcells would say, a bus driver not trying to make mistakes.
You make these types of moves because you believe you have a quarterback who can adapt and overcome.
Romo, 31, is entering what he has called the "second phase" of his career. He has started 61 games and been around for seven seasons. He has seen all of the league's defensive schemes. He is in the fifth year of running the same offense.
Missing 10 games last year with a broken collarbone gave him a better sense of how to run a game; listening to the defensive coaches helped him understand what the other side of the ball is trying to do against him.
In May, he helped coordinate the player-run practices at Southlake's Dragon Stadium. Teammates have sensed a different sense of purpose.
There is a sign inside the Cowboys' team meeting room: Know and Know You Know.
Romo knows and knows he knows.
Because Romo and Gurode played together for so long, they could see the same things before the snap without talking.
As it stands 12 days before the season opener at the New York Jets, Romo will play behind two rookies (Smith and Nagy) and an inexperienced center (Costa). He will have to be on top of the defensive fronts thrown at him.
"I don't think there's any more on him," coach Jason Garrett said of having to read defenses. "I think he's always been involved in it. The line has always been involved in it. One of the things we've been impressed by with our young offensive linemen is they are smart. They know football. They pick things up quickly. There's going to be a ton of looks that everybody is going to see throughout the year that we've got to handle and do a real good job with. We're going to be challenged in that area, and I think experience certainly helps. Hopefully, we'll be prepared and we can handle those things, communicate things well and all be on the same page."
When Romo became the starter, he had veterans such as Flozell Adams and Marco Rivera on his offensive line, along with Gurode, Colombo and Kyle Kosier. He could defer to what they saw if he wanted. Now he has to be the leader.
Romo knows it won't always be perfect, but it didn't always go perfectly with the veterans either. There will be times he will have to throw the ball earlier than he wants. There will be times the receivers go this way instead of that way. And there will be times Romo will make mistakes, too.
"At the end of the day, the ball is going to be snapped and you have to play quarterback," Garrett said. "I think the balance between doing some of those things before the snap and without taking you away from being as capable as you can be as a physical player once the ball is snapped is really the trick to the whole thing. I think Tony has gotten better and better at that throughout his career."
Romo will need to be at his best in 2011 if the Cowboys are to succeed.
In fact, they are banking on it.
Todd Archer covers the Cowboys for ESPNDallas.com.