Romo gets in better shape
CARROLLTON, Texas -- Jerry Jones' stated goal this offseason was to make the Dallas Cowboys more "Romo-friendly," a phrase that requires little reading into.
Certainly not for Tony Romo.
Romo recognizes the Cowboys are his team now, more than ever before. And, more than ever, he's acting like it.
Romo is taking a new approach to conditioning in hopes of being in as good shape in December as he is in September. He's working on ways to be smarter and safer with the football.
Put it all together and it sounds like he's also accepting, and perhaps even embracing, the role of team leader -- one that comes with more strings attached when that team is the Cowboys.
"It's not only dealing with the game but dealing with all the extra stuff that goes with it," Romo said Wednesday, the final day of a three-day minicamp that was the club's last official get-together before training camp.
"There are a lot of people that struggle with the mental side of off-the-field situations, and if you can't get over that then you're never going to be able to perform on the field. That's part of figuring out going with it and learning. I had to learn, just like I'm sure plenty of young guys will when they play."
Romo is no longer the happy-go-lucky guy still riding the high of going from unknown backup to Pro Bowler with a pinup girlfriend. He still dates Jessica Simpson, but these days more people are talking about his 0-2 playoff record than his two trips to Hawaii.
More damaging is that Dallas missed the playoffs last season, going from midseason Super Bowl favorites to hardly showing up for their finale in Philadelphia when a win would've clinched a wild card. Romo's reputation took another hit after that game when he said something that seemed to downplay the disappointment of missing the playoffs.
Jones threw out the "Romo friendly" line a few weeks before cutting Terrell Owens. Getting rid of the team's most productive receiver wouldn't seem to be in a quarterback's best interests -- unless that guy was causing other problems.
Either way, the result is more pressure for Romo to perform and one less weapon to help him do it. That alone could prompt changes.
But Romo insists his reason is far more basic -- he just wants to get better, using Michael Jordan as an example of someone who never stopped refining himself.
"I don't know why you wouldn't look at yourself from an honest perspective every time you go into the offseason and say, 'What do I need to do?" Romo said. "Back in February, when we started going at this thing, you look at tape, you look at yourself and you say, 'What did I not do successful?' Or, 'What hurt me this season when I was out on the football field?' You have to really be harsh sometimes on yourself and you ask questions from people that you trust."
The answers that came back ranged from uncovering a flaw in his footwork to changes in his exercise routine.
And there was the usual bugaboo about his recklessness with the ball.
Romo grew up in Wisconsin watching Brett Favre pull out game after game with high-risk plays, and it became part of his on-field persona, too. It was evident last season, when he had 21 turnovers in 13 games, a rate of 1.6 per game. He's at 1.4 per game for his career; by comparison, Favre was 1.7 and Troy Aikman finished his career at 1.2.
"If you're down 28-7 in the fourth quarter with four minutes to go, is it really important to protect the ball or move the ball and try and score fast in the first possession?" Romo said. "So I think that stats can lie like that sometimes. But I do think I did turn the ball over in some cases that I do need to look at from last season."
The changes fall in various categories, from cutting down on risky throws to being quicker to give up on a play and realize it's time to throw the ball away or take a sack. He also needs to get a better grip on the ball while scrambling.
"I'm going to take it very serious next season," Romo pledged. "I think this team understands the ball is important. We do some things pretty good and we need to go out and do it right all the time, not just some of the time. I think the approach is right, though."
Talking about it in June is easy. He'll have to prove it this fall.
So far, at least, Jones likes the way Romo is coming along, and that goes for all areas -- ball-protection, conditioning, leadership and everything else.
"His arrow's going up," Jones said. "Anybody that is underestimating his mind on his responsibility as a quarterback is underestimating him."
Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press
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