OXNARD, Calif. – When Jerry Jones made Tony Romo one of the richest quarterbacks in NFL history this past offseason, he wanted to make sure he was getting the whole package. The Cowboys owner famously said that he wanted Romo putting in Peyton Manning-type hours at the office.
And while Jones is perfectly within his right to ask for that sort of commitment, he probably should’ve left that between him and Romo. But make no mistake that Romo has an even larger presence in this training camp. I’ve observed Romo in every Cowboys training camp since his ’03 rookie season, and there was something different going on this week. During a walk-through session Monday, Romo was the only one talking to the tight ends and wide receivers as they went over some routes. Garrett walked over to observe, but neither he nor quarterbacks coach Wade Wilson said a word during the 15-minute period.
We made a huge deal of the Cowboys getting a new playcaller this offseason, but it’s Romo who will have more say than ever. If he’d been against Jerry’s plan to strip Garrett of those duties, Romo likely could’ve prevented it from happening. He has an excellent relationship with Garrett, but I think he was ready for a change. I don’t know if Bill Callahan will defer to Romo more than Garrett did, but that’s what the quarterback is thinking. On Wednesday, Romo was asked if he’ll be able to call more audibles at the line of scrimmage this season.
“I think they all go hand in hand together,” he said. “More than anything, when you’re in there and you’re part of understanding what we’re trying to do, you know what we’re looking for and what we’re not and what we want to run. So, yeah, I’m sure that I’ll probably do a little more from time to time at the line.
“That’s not every time, and that doesn’t mean every game. It just means that that capability is there for us. We’ve been doing a lot of different things to practice that stuff. It’ll just add to our package.”
For years, Romo has done an excellent job running the team’s two-minute offense. He seems to be at his best when the offense has a huge sense of urgency. That’s why it’s so maddening to watch the team barely beat the play clock time after time. They’re taking a page from some of those old Rice Owl teams in using a wristband to streamline the play-calling operation this season.
On Monday, Romo talked about how important it was for the offense to establish a good rhythm heading into the regular season. I wanted to know how that related to having a new playcaller. It seems that Romo and Callahan are working hard to establish a solid rapport.
“I don’t know how much time it is, but it’s hours every day that we’re outside of the football field in meetings together or just talking and going over stuff,” Romo said of Callahan. “It’s a good thing. It’s been a real good rapport. Bill’s got a good mind for football, just like Jason, and it just allows us to do a lot of different things when we all put our heads together and attack things.”
Every offensive player I’ve talked to has been extremely careful in describing the changes. No one wants to come across as overly excited, in part because they know how hard it was for Garrett to give up the duties. We may never know how hard he fought to keep the play-calling duties, but it now seems like he’s embracing this new approach.
It took Romo a few years to figure out what type of leader he’d be for the Cowboys. It was his nature to simply lead by example. Now, he’s much more demonstrative. Jerry wanted him to have a bigger impact on the organization, and he’s now ready for that role.
Former Cowboys backup quarterback Jon Kitna once told me that Romo needed to realize that every move he makes on the football field impacts everyone in the organization. That may have seemed like a foreign concept to Romo in his first few years as a starter. But he received a stark reminder with those three interceptions against the Redskins in last season’s win-or-go-home regular-season finale.
I’ve seen Romo exude confidence since the time he entered his first training camp. What I’ve noticed in this camp, though, is his teammates feeding off that confidence. The Cowboys have good leadership on both sides of the ball.
But Romo’s now the most powerful man in the organization…other than Jerry. So he might as well get to call some of his own plays.