Monday, August 04, 2008

Peter King on Dallas QB Tony Romo

OXNARD, Calif. -- There's a reason, even if you hate the Cowboys, that you should admire Tony Romo. It's because he gets it. He cares about the right things, he works hard at being good and he gets what's important in becoming a top player at the highest level of football.

That was on display Friday night after Cowboys training camp, in a Marriott Residence Inn suite being used as PR man Rich Dalrymple's office. If you travel, you know what these rooms are like. Mini-kitchen at one end, couch and chair and small table in the middle, bedroom at the other end. Only instead of a bed in Dalrymple's unit, there's a wide table where he works.

During my visit, Romo got up from his chair to demonstrate what he'd been doing in the offseason to get better. His offseason project: Get "quieter feet.'' Don't be bouncing forward in the pocket into traffic, as he did at times last year. The theory is if he stays back, he might have another split-second before the pass-rush gets to him.

This is why I love this time of year. There is nothing like the first three or four weeks of the preseason, when teams are at ease, no one's lost a game, and no hates the media much yet. Forty minutes like these are only-in-training-camp moments, with Romo getting up to demonstrate something he wanted me to understand. During the season, we might be on the phone, and maybe he'd try to explain, but it wouldn't be clear enough. Now I'm seeing it. And, as your rep out here on the trail, I hope that now you are seeing it.

"Every offseason, I go into it thinking, What can I do to get better?'' Romo said, moving toward the kitchen to get into position to drop back and throw. "This year, I looked at my games last season and saw on my seven-step drops, I was setting up, bouncing around, looking at my options, 1-2-3-4, and moving up in the pocket. You're so used to getting momentum in the pocket that sometimes you don't see how much you're actually moving forward. All of a sudden, I'm throwing from maybe four steps behind center, not seven, and I'm putting my guards and center in a pretty bad spot.''

Now Romo was up showing me.

"Before,'' he said, "I'd drop back seven and I'd be looking, looking, looking ... ''

He looked left, center and right in the room, bouncing on his feet, moving forward as he did it, ending up about three yards ahead in this imaginary pocket, throwing to an imaginary receiver on the right.

"I've moved way up. See? I better throw it now or the pocket's gonna collapse on me," he said. "What I was doing was creating pressure where there should be none. When I watched film, I wanted to change that.''

"To get out of the traffic?'' I said.

"Yeah,'' he said. "And as I watched film of other quarterbacks, I noticed one, Tom Brady, who didn't do it. As he looked 1-2-3-4, boom-boom-boom, I saw his feet. They weren't coming forward. He was seeing his receivers though.''

Now he dropped back, imitating the stay-at-home Brady.

"Brady's like, back-back-back, stay, look, stay, look, boom! Complete. That's what I want to be doing.''

On Saturday, in seven-on-seven passing drills here, I watched Romo. On his first dropback, he stayed-stayed-stayed, looked left and, without moving up, launched a deep ball, incomplete, for Terrell Owens. He did the same thing on his next throw, a shallow cross to tight end Tony Curtis, who dropped a ball right in his hands.

It was working. The spatial stuff Romo worked on during the spring was coming along, and Romo was making it look second-nature. Now, offensive coordinator Jason Garrett told me Romo didn't have to do a total makeover on his footwork; he was OK with this last year except for a couple of games in which his steps got of whack and he was moving forward in the pocket. Clearly, what Romo is trying to do this year is make sure for 16 games he never gets out of the habit of giving himself the best chance to stay back and see the field for the longest time.

"Probably every year for the last 10 years, I've looked at my game and tried to get better in the offseason,'' Romo said. "There's a reason I was able to get to this level and win this job, and I think that has a lot to do with it. You look at yourself from a realistic standpoint and say: I know I can do this better, or that better. And you work on it. In this case, for me, it helps because it's just another way for the game to slow down.''

Four other Romo points:

• I told him I thought he lost his cool a little during the late stages of the playoff loss to the Giants, when he got down on his linemen for getting him beat up by the New York pass-rush. I asked him if he thought he did.

"No, I really don't,'' he said. "There are times in a game you have to say to guys, Hey, this is too important for us to be making the mistakes you're making. Way too important. And that was one of those times.''

Maybe. And it was the kind of rage you sometimes see in Brady, so who's to say it's all bad? But it was certainly uncharacteristic of Romo.

• I wondered about his ability to compartmentalize and handle the zaniness of the Jessica Simpson/paparazzi part of his life along with the football world. He won't talk about Simpson for the record, in part because he refuses to feed the monster of celebrity. "I don't read much of the gossipy stuff, and I don't care about it,'' he said. "I take my job very seriously, but it's hard to take that stuff seriously. In five or six years, nobody's going to remember any of it.''

• Romo Quote of the Summer: Asked about breaking one of Bill Parcells' Ten Commandments For Quarterbacks -- Do not become a celebrity quarterback -- Romo said times have changed since that Parcellsism. "Bill said that before the days [when] phones could be used as cameras.''

• He had an interesting take on "winning the big game.'' Romo is 19-7 in the regular season, 0-2 in the playoffs. "What exactly constitutes a 'big game?' '' he asked. "We've had some pretty big regular-season games in the last couple of years. A couple years ago, when Peyton Manning set the touchdown record, I'm watching NFL Live, and the guys are talking about the great season he had, and someone says, 'But he hasn't won the big game yet.' I mean, he'd had two perfect playoff games -- the highest rating he could have -- to that point, but he hadn't beaten New England, and so he couldn't win the big game.

"You mean playing perfect in a playoff game and winning is not winning a big game? The way I look at this job is: If you're waiting for everyone to get on your side and think you're great, you'll be miserable your whole career.''

Time for the nightly quarterback meeting. He left me a good deal to chew on.