Add another item to the list of expectations for Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo.
Romo isn’t just being heavily relied upon to help the Cowboys break a three-season playoff drought in 2013. After signing him to a six-year, $108 million contract extension in March, team owner Jerry Jones said he wants Romo to have a much greater say in the team’s offensive game-planning.
“He’s played a lot of games now,” Jones told co-host Gil Brandt and me on SiriusXM NFL Radio on Monday night. “He certainly had a lot of time on the job before he ever started and played. He has a unique grasp of our offensive concepts. The people who are around him the most – his coaches – tell me he’s never had a bad idea.
“If you think about where he’s at right now, he’s 10 years older than most of the players we have on the field. We think his skill level right now is very much where we hoped it would be and will be for several years to come. But what we want to use more than we ever have is the kind of thing that (ex-Cowboys quarterback Roger) Staubach contributed – input into designing a plan that helps us beat that opponent.”
Such input is yet another marked difference in how the Cowboys may be run this season. Head coach Jason Garrett has yet to reveal whether he will remain the offensive play-caller or cede those responsibilities to coordinator Bill Callahan.
Although this may not be directly related to what Jones is demanding, Romo has decided to skip participating in several golf tournaments like he had during prior offseasons.
“You’ve got to do more than look at a couple of quick plays on Tuesday or Monday,” Jones said. “You’ve got to get in and study, spend time and look at 100 plays to really have that input. We think he can bring that to the table. That will be a big change. He certainly has had input but not the kind of input he’s going to have going forward.
“When you talk about a guy who’s been behind the center, they’ve seen it. They know what it looks like when it’s coming at them. They know how loud it is out there. Plus, we all know that when it’s your idea and you’ve got to execute it just seems to work better. We all do better when we’ve got some of our own proprietary input in it.”
Romo, 33, passed for a career-high 4,903 yards last season along with 28 touchdowns and 19 interceptions while being forced to carry much of the offense. Dallas ranked 31st in the NFL in rushing and Romo took a physical beating playing behind a subpar offensive line.
Jones believes both those deficiencies were addressed during the offseason despite an NFL salary-cap penalty that greatly tempered what roster moves the Cowboys could make. First-round pick Travis Frederick is slotted as an immediate starter at center with second-year guard Ron Leary expected to push for first-team action. Jones also said the team would like right tackle Doug Free back if they can reach agreement on a restructured contract.
Although some draft analysts believe the Cowboys reached by picking Frederick at No. 31 overall, Jones said addressing the interior offensive line was his team’s most pressing draft priority. After moving out of the No. 18 pick in a trade with San Francisco, Jones said he was unwilling to keep trying to move back and accumulate extra picks because they would risk losing Frederick to another team.
Callahan told Jones that Frederick has many of the same traits as Nick Mangold, who is considered one of the league’s top centers with the New York Jets. Callahan was New York’s offensive line coach during Mangold’s three All-Pro seasons (2009, 2010 and 2011).
“With our three interior linemen, he gives us real below-the-waist strength,” Jones said of Frederick. “That’s a big deal for us. You need to have that. You can’t (be) light in the britches with three guys across there. If you’ve got one, you could build possibly with the other two to work with him.”
Jones said he expects 2013 fifth-round pick Joseph Randle to work in tandem at running back with DeMarco Murray, who has struggled with injuries during his first two NFL seasons.
“They’re very similar in what they can do well,” Jones said. “They’ll step up and block. They’re real good receivers and they’ve got some ability to run that ball and do what we ask our running backs to do. I think we’re in good shape.”
Jones also is encouraged by what has been a quiet spring so far for wide receiver Dez Bryant, who has avoided the off-field controversy and legal problems that he encountered during his first four NFL offseasons. Bryant is coming off his best campaign with 92 catches for 1,382 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2012.
“He’s certainly matured,” Jones said. “You expect that. Football means everything to him. He certainly had a lot of growing up to do, probably more so than your average player. He’s quick to understand that. He is doing that and at a fast pace. I’m positive but I know better than to get too positive because you can always get that call.”
Along with the defensive changes being made by new coordinator Monte Kiffin – including a simpler system that should allow promising rookie players like cornerback B.J. Webb to contribute more quickly — Jones expects his Cowboys to break through after missing the playoffs the past two seasons following Week 17 losses.
“We want this to result in better than 8-8,” Jones said. “I had a fan ask me, ‘Do you know what a rut is? It’s lying in a casket with both ends cut out. You’re in a rut. You need to break out of it.’”