Sunday, June 21, 2009

Column: Tony Romo appears to be moving in the right direction


DALLAS -- We've all known the Cowboys will go only as far as Tony Romo leads them. Maybe, as he enters his fourth season as a starter, he finally understands that.

If you listen to his comments earlier this week at the Cowboys' final off-season minicamp, it sounds like Romo's figured out that good isn't good enough if winning a championship is the goal -- and that's the standard for the Dallas Cowboys.

These days, he's talking about being a better leader. Remember, he scoffed at the notion a few months ago. The other day, Romo talked about pushing himself to get in better condition to help him perform just as well in December as he does in September, October and November.

When Romo talks about the importance of protecting the ball, it's an indication that he realizes 21 turnovers -- seven lost fumbles and 14 interceptions -- won't enable the Cowboys to end their wretched streak of 12 seasons without a playoff win. When he talks about winning games without flashy plays, you should take that as indication that he's maturing as a quarterback.

It sounds to me like the cocky quarterback has been humbled.

Don't misunderstand, I admire Romo's belief that every play can be turned into a touchdown. I like the emotion and passion he displays when he plays.

If we're honest, though, it's easy to see how and why he regressed. In less than a year, Romo went from a fairly anonymous backup quarterback to a Pro Bowler who became the face of America's Team.

Did I mention the six-year contract worth $67 million, including $30 million in guarantees. The money. The fame. The success. The high profile.

Who wouldn't lose their mind?

Without Bill Parcells grinding on him the last two years and challenging him to be the best he can be every play, Romo has regressed.

No doubt.

See, this isn't about stats. For a quarterback, stats never tell the whole story. And when you play for an offensive coordinator who loves to throw the ball, stats will never tell the entire story.

"I can give you some stats that showed he had a better year last year, but that doesn't count. We didn't have a better year because of the winning," Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones said. "We all know it didn't go to his satisfaction last year on an individual or team basis. I think you're seeing go to work and do something about it.

"He's just trying to take care of business. There's too much at stake. There's too many people trying to get the same thing. Any of us are naive, if we don't understand the challenge it takes to win and be a champion because there are a lot of pitfalls."

Romo has immense talent. No one has ever doubted that.

We've all seen him do some amazing things on the field, but for the Cowboys to win in December when the games are most important and in the playoffs, when legacies are forged, Romo must play better.

It's that simple.

The owner, though, is not surprised at the metamorphosis that appears to be taking place.

"What I see is him addressing ways to improve. If he was at a different stage of his career, he might be worried about his health or whether his arm is live enough," Jones said. "That tells me his arrow is going up. His entire attitude in every respect is good.

"When you have that attitude for improvement and you're willing to address it, you get better. Anyone who's underestimating his mind on his responsibility as quarterback is underestimating him."

Words alone won't get it done. We know that.

Still, Romo's moving in the right direction. The way you fix is a problem is admitting you have one. It sounds like he understands that now, but we won't know for sure until the season begins.

It's one thing to talk about change in the calm of the summer and quite another to do it during the heat and pressure of the season.