Mac Engel

Cowboys trust Romo, health despite an injury-riddled past

Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo, center, did not practice Sunday at training camp in Oxnard, Calif. Despite Romo’s ability to make plays, the Cowboys should not trust the franchise quarterback’s ability to avoid injuries given his past.
Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo, center, did not practice Sunday at training camp in Oxnard, Calif. Despite Romo’s ability to make plays, the Cowboys should not trust the franchise quarterback’s ability to avoid injuries given his past. mfaulkner@star-telegram.com

The first photo of Tony Romo trotting out to his first practice makes him look like Jabba The Quarterback.

The Internet ran wild with the unflattering angled pic’, with one of the quips being: “Tony Romo better at finishing his 4th quarter pounder than 4th quarters.”

In no time #TonyRomoFat was trending.

Lighten up. It’s funny.

For years, critics have said Romo is fat. I like to call fat, “potential,” or in this case, “protection.” Tony Romo isn’t fat, and the Cowboys insist he is in great shape.

There is, however, the reality that Tony Romo could be fat if he wants. Signed through 2019, Romo can do anything he wants right now.

Romo did not practice Sunday because he doesn’t have to. He could take up Krispy Kreme and Kools — in the huddle and during games — if he desires. He could do anything he wants and there is nothing his boss, his coach, his teammates or his fans can do about it.

As the man who once aspired to be a golf pro, Romo has never shown the interest or desire for all of the power and responsibility he has been handed. But he has it, and both his team, teammates and entire fan base have to trust he knows what he’s doing.

He clearly knows what he is doing, and while his intention is trustworthy, his play is not. The Cowboys are trusting that Romo can stay healthy when there is no reason to maintain that faith.

Given his age (36), style of play, courage and major injuries he has sustained, there is no reason to trust he can remain healthyfor a full 16 games.

Since Tony Romo became the Week 1 starter for the Cowboys in 2007, he has played all 16 games four times.

And we all know by now that if Romo is not playing, the Cowboys are not winning. The Cowboys are 78-49 in the regular season in games Romo starts. They’re 7-20 when he does not.

The record speaks to Romo’s ability to carry a franchise that has not adequately prepared itself for his absence since he secured himself as the starter in 2007.

Romo’s size — he is listed as 6-foot-2, 230 pounds — is the one thing his former head coach, Bill Parcells, expressed a great deal of worry over when he elevated him to the No. 1 spot on the depth chart.

The biggest concern for Romo is simply not taking the big hit because it is evident his body will not take it well. This means he has to give up on a play, which is like teaching a dog not to shed.

Not quitting is a part of Romo’s DNA. It is what makes him special, and vulnerable. It is much easier to be vulnerable when you are 26 and do not have a collection of scars from back and shoulder surgeries on your body.

While Romo is better at eating the ball than ever before, extending plays is still a part of who he is. But it’s like a boxer.The longer he is in the ring — or in a given play — he’s going to get hit.

The big hits that have knocked him out the last two years have been a combination of good plays by the defense, missed blocking, and “just bad luck,” offensive coordinator Scott Linehan said.

For instance, when Romo suffered the broken clavicle in Week 2 against the Eagles last season, the opposing defender jumped the route. Had Romo thrown to the designated receiver, what looked like tight end Jason Witten, the ball would have been intercepted.

“On that play, he has to get rid of the football,” Linehan said.

He didn’t, and rather than just flush the play when the team was up 13-0 in the third quarter he held on in the face of oncoming pressure. Eagles linebacker Jordan Hicks sacked him, forced a fumble, and Romo was gone for the next seven games.

By the time he returned on Nov. 22, the season was about dead.

The second busted clavicle last season — against the Panthers on Thanksgiving — came against a three-man defensive front. Romo tried his spin move that has worked so well so often, but it failed. Linebacker Thomas Davis sacked him and ended his season on a hit that did not look that bad.

In light of these realities, the Cowboys have changed just about nothing in how they handle Romo.

Even taking into consideration Romo’s age and injury history, there are no plans to alter his preparation, or play calls.

Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett, Linehan and vice president Stephen Jones have all conceded that they trust Romo to the point where he can dictate his pace, schedule, and “pitch counts.”

Romo’s work schedule in Oxnard includes a heavy diet of off days, and a “No touch” policy from teammates during practices or drills.

“He’s very aware of what he’s comfortable with. He started that three, four or five years ago in terms of reps he should take,” Stephen Jones said. “He’s not naive, and neither are we, as far as how old he is and where he is in the league.”

Accordingly, we should no longer be so naive and gullible to trust that Tony Romo can avoid injury.

Listen to Mac Engel every Tuesday and Thursday on Shan & RJ from 5:30-10 a.m. on 105.3 The Fan.

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