Tony Romo

When will the Dallas Cowboys feel Tony Romo is really back

By Matthew Postins

Is it time to start worrying about Tony Romo? I say no, but I found at least one Cowboys fan I hung out with last weekend thinking to himself, “I think there’s something up.”

That came Saturday as he checked his Twitter account to see that Romo wasn’t practicing that day. It was Romo’s scheduled off day, based on the two-days on, one-day off schedule he’s kept since training camp began. This is the managed schedule that the Cowboys have used for Romo after an offseason in which he didn’t participate in team drills during organized team activities or mandatory mini-camp, but was there to throw the ball and rehab after surgery to repair his herniated disc.

Everything the Cowboys and Romo have had to say about the 12th-year quarterback’s recovery has been positive. Offensive play-caller Scott Linehan likes the managed schedule for Romo, while Romo says he appreciates the approach because, as he told reporters last week, “there’s not a ton of history of coming back after that (surgery) at my position.”

This makes sense. You can even see some method to the madness. Romo probably won’t play Thursday night in the Cowboys’ preseason opener against San Diego. In fact, thanks to his managed schedule Romo won’t participate in a game or workout until Saturday, giving him a full four days off in the middle of training camp. Surely the Cowboys took that into account when they drew up the schedule.

But with all that said it’s hard not to be just a little concerned because, well, we’re just not used to this. This is pro football. If you’re healthy — and Romo seems to be — you play. This is the point in training camp where some guys, especially younger players, are getting their first or second day off, not their fourth or fifth. Training camp is built to improve stamina and endurance for the regular season. One concern with all of these days off is Romo’s functional game stamina. We’re not talking about his ability to turn something into nothing on one play, mind you. We’re talking about actually handling 60-70 snaps a game. I don’t see Romo being ready for that now, and if this schedule keeps up how could he be ready come September? It won’t keep him from starting, but I’d be real interested to see where he’s at in the fourth quarter of that season opener against San Francisco if this scenario holds.

I actually don’t question whether Romo will connect with his receivers given this schedule. He has built-up chemistry with all of his major offensive weapons. He likely has a grasp on the tweaks Linehan is making to Jason Garrett’s offense. But will Romo hold up over a whole season? That’s a question that you can’t answer now, but this schedule — and the best association I can make is that of a spring training pitcher — doesn’t inspire as many with confidence as the Cowboys would like.

If you’re not clear why the Cowboys are being so cautious, owner and general manager Jerry Jones made it so on Tuesday, telling the media that he hasn’t felt this good about the offense since 2007. That year the Cowboys went 13-3 in Garrett’s first year as offensive coordinator. Romo is one of just two offensive tools left from that season, and his talent in 2014 will be just as pivotal as it was in 2007, when he threw for 4,211 yards, 36 touchdowns and 19 interceptions in his first full season as a starting quarterback.

Jones has good reason to feel good about this offense. Aside from Romo, running back DeMarco Murray is coming off a 1,000-yard rushing season and has emerged as a three-down option. Wide receiver Dez Bryant is among the top five pass-catchers in the game and tight end Jason Witten is as reliable as they come. Second-year wide receiver Terrance Williams leads a group of young receivers that can take heat off the main weapons. Some tout the offensive line as one of the best in football, anchored by left tackle Tyron Smith.

But if Romo gets hurt, well, you get the idea. Backup Brandon Weeden can only drive the car so far. So the Cowboys remain cautious, even if it does unsettle some fans.

If it makes you feel any better when I covered the Tampa Bay Buccaneers from 2004-07 head coach Jon Gruden and his staff implemented a similar managed structure for their key veteran players like Mike Alstott and Derrick Brooks. They would rotate getting a day off every three or four days, and it made plenty of sense in that blazing Orlando sun. And it seemed to keep those players fresher.

For me, all of the reps in the world are fine. So is all the rest in the world. I have enough faith in Romo’s ability to be ready to play when the time comes to not be too concerned. But I’m not going to be fully on board with Romo being “ready to play” until I see him take a hit, get up and act like nothing happened. If you’re looking for your “a-ha” moment, that’s the one.

You’re just going to have to wait at least another week to see it. Until then, as you were, whether you have faith in how the Cowboys are managing Romo or not.