Sunday, July 22, 2012 Updated: July 24, 1:22 PM ET
Cowboys are Tony Romo's team
By Tim MacMahon ESPNDallas.com
The transition is complete: The Dallas Cowboys are Tony Romo's team.
There is no longer a question about whether the franchise quarterback feels comfortable in the leadership role required of his position. There should no longer be any questions about whether Romo is capable of filling that role.
Tony Romo doesn't excuse Dez Bryant's alleged behavior, but he's standing by his receiver. "The one thing I know is that Dez knows I have his back."
The first strong comments from the Cowboys' camp after Dez Bryant's arrest for allegedly assaulting his mother didn't come from owner/general manager Jerry Jones or head coach Jason Garrett. They came from Romo, who set the tone for a team rallying around a troubled 23-year-old who needs all the support and guidance he can get.
"The one thing I know is that Dez knows I have his back," Romo told ESPN's Ed Werder on Friday at the American Century Celebrity Golf Championship in Lake Tahoe. "Dez knows I'll be there for him. Dez knows that I'm going to stick up for him."
No hemming and hawing. No dancing around a sensitive subject.
Just Romo saying what he believes, what he thinks is in the best interest of his team.
That's leadership, like it or not.
Romo admits he shied away from that role for his first few years as a starter, comparing it to a high school sophomore fitting in on a team full of upperclassmen.
Well, at the tender age of 32, Romo will be the oldest guy in the Cowboys' offensive huddle (maybe the entire roster) this season.
And Romo readily embraces the responsibilities that come along with his graybeard status as he prepares for his seventh season as a starter.
"All of the sudden, you become a senior one day," Romo said. "You have your skins on the wall, and when you do, you need to shape the team and your offense the way it needs to be so that ultimately everybody's achieving the same goal. That's winning and doing it at the highest level.
"I've learned that. It took a little bit, but now I'm in our guys' faces probably more than they'd like to see. But that's only because you only have a short window in the NFL. I try to preach it to our young guys. It's about winning and accomplishing your goals right now."
It's one thing to display leadership by organizing workouts when coaches aren't allowed to work with players, as Romo did during last year's lockout and again recently after the Cowboys concluded the official offseason program.
It's also a significant step to be willing to get in a guy's face when the job is getting done on the field, which Romo has done more of in the last year than the rest of his career combined.
Those actions are assured to be applauded. That's not necessarily the case with Romo's comments supporting a man accused of violence against a woman.
That's sure to draw passionate criticism from some people, even though Romo didn't excuse Bryant's alleged behavior, instead expressing empathy for the way the receiver's nightmarish upbringing has shaped his off-field difficulties.
It does Romo no good to play the part of judge or jury. It's part of his job, as the captain of a ship on a win-now mission, to do everything in his power to help a potential star receiver prepare for the season under adverse circumstances.
Romo, perhaps playing the role of good cop, is choosing to give Bryant an understanding pat on the back over a swift kick in the butt. Romo made sure to steer the conversation toward positive reinforcement, praising Bryant's work ethic and pointing to tremendous progress before predicting a big reason for a dude who is under a public dogpile at the moment.
"Stuff happens and we all wish that certain things wouldn't, and I know that he's going to try to make sure in the future those things don't happen again," Romo said. "But friends and your teammates don't leave you during those moments. They come back and they tell you that we're here for you. Our football team is a close-knit team, and these moments should show that."
As chaotic as Bryant's personal life might be, the Cowboys' locker room will be a sanctuary for him.
Because Romo says so. And it's his team.