Tuesday, December 20, 2011
Tony Romo keeps communication open
By Tim MacMahon ESPNDallas.com
IRVING, Texas -- Not many people understand the importance of quarterback-receiver relationships better than Tony Romo.
Not coincidentally, no quarterback is more appreciative of his current receiving corps.
Romo knows there aren't many receiving trios as talented as Miles Austin, Dez Bryant and Laurent Robinson. They're all tall, fast targets with good hands and the ability to make defenders miss once they get the ball. And none of the Dallas Cowboys' receivers is the kind of prima donna who so often seems to play that position.
The team-first attitudes make Romo's job so much easier. Finding the open man is complicated enough when facing NFL defenses without having to worry about feeding egos.
Miles Austin says Tony Romo keeps the receivers involved at practice and does a great job communicating.
"We're lucky," Romo said after Austin, Bryant and Robinson each scored a touchdown for the second consecutive game in Saturday's win over Tampa Bay. "We have some great guys at that position. It's hard to get selfless receivers. I couldn't be happier with the personalities and the people. Obviously, they've got great talent, but they're also great people.
"They're the best mix of ability, talent and personalities. It's fun coming to work and working with these guys."
The receivers have mutual respect for Romo, who is in the midst of arguably his best season despite playing several weeks with a fractured rib.
That hasn't always been the case around Valley Ranch. Remember, it was just a few Decembers ago that several receivers marched into then-offensive coordinator Jason Garrett's office to complain about Romo's cozy relationship with Jason Witten.
There had to be a conspiracy theory to explain why a quarterback would want to throw the ball often to a perennial Pro Bowl tight end, right?
Terrell Owens arrived at Valley Ranch with a reputation as a quarterback killer. Romo tried to make that relationship work as long and as well as possible, but T.O. had to go after the 2008 season went down in flames while his displeasure dominated the December headlines.
Roy Williams was more politically correct than T.O., but he was much less productive. He didn't make establishing a rapport with Romo a priority, preferring to subtly blame the quarterback and playcaller for his inability to live up to his paycheck until the Cowboys cut him last summer.
The Cowboys' current receivers all recognize one simple fact about Romo: "He makes us better," Robinson said.
The veteran receivers recently run off by the Cowboys seemed to think that Romo worked for them. That's not the way the current receivers roll.
"He's our team leader," Bryant said. "We want to get that trust to make him want to throw us the ball whenever we're open or even if we're covered, just to make him know that we're going to be there. It's our job to please him."
Garrett calls the Cowboys' receivers "the right kind of guys," but it helps that they all appreciate the role that Romo has played in their development.
Austin, a fellow undrafted free agent, broke into the league as Romo's scout-team buddy. Romo was well established as the Cowboys' franchise quarterback when Austin had his breakout campaign in 2009.
Bryant arrived with a lot of hype after the Cowboys drafted him in the 2010 first round, but he admits that he was in awe when Romo first talked to him during a minicamp practice. He's made major strides in the mental aspects of playing receiver in the NFL in part because he soaks up every pointer Romo offers.
Robinson was a journeyman when he signed for the veteran's minimum with the Cowboys in September. He'll likely be rewarded with an eight-figure contract, from either the Cowboys or another team, after working with Romo for a season.
The key is the open line of communication between quarterback and receivers. They're constantly discussing the intricacies of routes and coverages, the timing and tweaks that can't be drawn on a chalkboard.
That's important when a play is executed as it's designed. It's especially important when Romo and the receivers have to freelance, which they do as well as anyone, as evidenced by his league-leading 10 touchdown passes and no picks outside the pocket.
"He does a great job of communicating with us about where he wants us at points," Austin said. "During practice, he'll keep us involved and say, 'Hey, when you run this, this is what I'm going to be thinking.' Everybody does a great job of communicating with him. As long as the line of communication stays open, we can connect on different levels."
Added Bryant: "That's how you build chemistry. That turns into greatness."
None of the Cowboys' wide receivers is putting up Pro Bowl-caliber numbers, but along with Witten, they form an arsenal of weapons for one of the NFL's most potent passing games.
One reason the Cowboys' offense is so difficult to prepare for is because the receivers' production is pretty close to equal. Opposing defenses can't just take one guy away and feel comfortable daring the others to beat them.
Bryant leads the team's receivers in catches (51) and yards (796) and is tied with Robinson and others for fourth in the NFL with nine touchdown catches. Robinson has 49 catches for 792 yards. Austin has 37 for 519 yards and six scores despite missing six games due to hamstring strains.
They all accept and embrace how they fit in the grand scheme of an offense with a lot of options. They worry about winning, not whining about how often the ball comes their way.
"We're obviously trying to do the best for ourselves," Austin said, "but we're genuinely happy when guys do the best for themselves."
As a result, Romo is genuinely happy he gets to work with this group of receivers.
Tim MacMahon covers the Cowboys for ESPNDallas.com.