When Tony Romo first got his feet wet as the Dallas Cowboys backup quarterback in 2004, he had the 41-year old Vinny Testaverde as the elder statesman and starting quarterback in the room imparting wisdom and tips of the trade.
There were things Romo learned that carried over when he replaced Drew Bledsoe as the starting quarterback midway through the 2006 season, beginning what has become the most prolific passing career in Cowboys history.
Romo, 36, is not as old as Testaverde was then but he relishes the opportunity to serve as mentor to the young quarterbacks the Cowboys now have on the roster.
While expecting to play 16 games for the first time since 2012, Romo also is spending time helping rookie fourth-round pick Dak Prescott and second-year quarterback Jameill Showers with the nuances of the position — a situation that became more important after the injury to backup Kellen Moore and the inability to sign a veteran replacement.
“I mean anytime you can pass on your knowledge and help especially good people, guys you see a little bit of yourself in with the work ethic, I think it’s exciting to see them succeed and compete,” Romo said.
“I want them to be successful. The hope and goal is for one day to pass that on and let these guys run off and play. Hopefully they can carry on the level of play we want at the quarterback position.”
Romo and the Cowboys are hoping that day is still years down the road.
It’s one reason the Cowboys are managing Romo’s time, to hopefully keep him on the field for a full season and possibly extend his career.
He practices no more than two consecutive days and then takes a day off. He has actually had two off days in a row the past two weeks as he distances himself from the back surgeries of 2012 and ’13 plus the twice fractured collarbone that sidelined him for 12 games last season.
“It’s the same routine I have been doing for years,” Romo said. “It allows my back to get as strong as can be. There are a lot things that go into camp besides practice. There is a ton of meeting time. There is ton of stuff in the weight room. There a lot things that you do.
“The day is meant to be long so everyone can soak up all the information as well as get their body in the right place to go play football.”
To that end, Romo will play no more than one series if at all in Saturday’s preseason opener against Los Angeles Rams. Romo said his focus is getting ready for the Sept. 11 season opener against the New York Giants and he will get plenty of time in practice and the preseason to get that done.
The preseason opener is an opportunity for Prescott and Showers to get as many reps as possible to show for the first time what they can do on a big stage.
What’s Romo’s best advice for Prescott going into his first preseason game?
“You are going to be nervous,” Romo said. “But that’s normal. Accept all the things that come with it. You are going to make a mistake here or there. Your job is to understand that happens leading in and go on to the next play.”
Of course, Romo didn’t have the same understanding from then coach Bill Parcells when he took the field first time as an undrafted rookie in 2003.
“I can remember Parcells meeting me at about the 30-yard line on the field when I made a mistake,” Romo said. “I came in against the Cardinals in the fourth quarter. We hadn’t done much offensively in that game. I had a shovel pass that hit off one of the refs I believe and it got intercepted. I don’t think he liked that at the time.”
The environment is quite different with the professorial Jason Garrett as head coach now rather than the fiery Parcells. The quarterback room is different as well. A year before, Testaverde came aboard, Romo found himself with Quincy Carter, Chad Hutchinson and Clint Stoerner.
He even got some first-team reps in camp as a rookie as the Cowboys were still trying to sort out the quarterback situation.
“I didn’t exactly perform up to the standard I think that we wanted,” Romo said. “That was my last chance for a year and a half. It goes to show you don’t get too many opportunities to really show the staff and the organization if you’re ready and prepared. So you really have to take advantage of that and have to be at your best all the time.”
So Romo understands the opportunity Prescott and Showers have in camp and is doing his best to help them make the most of it. He is already a fan of their work ethic and approach to the game.
“These guys really do a great job,” Romo said. “They are both hard working guys. They set themselves up for being successful. I think they will continue to do good things on the field. You see they are getting better.
“Now we get to see them with the lights on. I’m excited for them to go out there and play. If they continue to get better like they are, they both got a great future.”
The Cowboys and Romo just hope the future remains far off in the distance.