OXNARD, Calif. -- Tony Romo is starting his 10th NFL season. He remembers how he started his first.
As an undrafted player.
In the Alamodome.
With Bill Parcells, just hired as head coach, in charge of training camp.
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"All I knew is I had to make this throw in this play to try to make the team," Romo said this week as the Cowboys opened training camp for the sixth consecutive year with him as the starting quarterback. "At that time, it was all about trying to digest the information, trying to learn the offense, trying to do what the coaches wanted me to do.
"Get yelled at. Come back. Yelled at some more. And try and just get better, really."
Romo must have gotten better. He made the team as the third quarterback, behind Quincy Carter and Chad Hutchinson, and watched as the 2003 Cowboys went 10-6 and made the playoffs.
He outlasted Parcells, the coach whose eye he caught early and whose tough-love upbringing helped develop him.
And now he's trying to bring together everything he has learned in nine NFL seasons, hoping it sends him to the best years of his career as a youngish 32-year-old quarterback.
"Well, it doesn't seem like that, that's for sure," he said of his 10 years in the league. "I didn't play for the first 3 1/2. I missed basically a full season in another one. So sometimes, I guess, I've only played 5, 5 1/2 seasons of football, and it kind of feels like that. But 10 is definitely a bigger number."
Romo said he can't count the ways he has improved since 2003, when he signed with the Cowboys as an undrafted rookie out of Eastern Illinois.
"I mean honestly, there's a million," he said. "It'd be laughable if I went back in '06 or '07, '08, '09, the way I was then and compare it to the way I'm growing as a football player. Obviously through experiences and the decision-making, but I'm just talking technically. It's way different just the ability to throw a football, and that's exciting to know that you keep improving and the stuff that you're working on carries over."
Romo has never had any trouble convincing his teammates and coaches he can do the job. Tight end Jason Witten calls him an elite player.
Owner Jerry Jones said the Cowboys need him if they're going to win a Super Bowl.
But newcomers are convinced, too.
"He can throw the ball. He's an elite quarterback in my eyes," cornerback Brandon Carr said. "Smart. He knows his offense. He knows his players. Every day is a challenge going against him. He's one of the best quarterbacks in the league right now."
But it is not enough for Romo to be called one of the best.
He knows he is coming off his best statistical year, throwing for 4,184 yards, 31 touchdowns and 10 interceptions in 2011, although it only meant an 8-8 record.
"Just because you go by wins and losses sometimes doesn't always dictate how you're playing individually, and I know that," Romo said.
Cowboys coach Jason Garrett credits Romo's improvement to maturity. The two are entering their fifth season together in Dallas.
"He's played a lot of games in the NFL, he's had a lot of success, he's had some adversity as well, he's won a lot of games, he's lost some games, and I think when you go through that process, if you go about it the right way, you're going to get better, and Tony certainly goes about it the right way," Garrett said.
But better does not mean best. That is the way Romo wants to think until, as he puts it, he reaches his full potential.
"I've said this a million times, but it would seem silly to me to not come back better at a training camp than you were at the last training camp," he said. "When that happens, I don't know why you would continue to play the game."
Carlos Mendez, 817-390-7407