SAN ANTONIO (AP) — A lot has changed since the last time Tony Romo threw a pass that counted.
He missed 10 games last season while dealing with a broken collarbone. Seeing the Dallas Cowboys play better without him stoked his desire, too.
He returns with a new bond to the head coach, because new boss Jason Garrett was his coordinator the last four years. His bond with teammates is stronger, too, now that they've seen him organize and run offseason workouts.
Then there's the biggest change in his life: He's a married man. Not that Romo expects it to matter on the football field.
"Maybe there's a little more dinner on the table at the house at night," Romo said, laughing. "That would be the biggest difference."
This is Romo's fifth training camp as the starter, his first trying to bounce back from a losing record. He went 1-5 last season, both the most losses and the fewest starts of his career.
Although backups Jon Kitna and Stephen McGee went a combined 5-5 in his absence, there was never a question about this still being Romo's team. It's possible he appreciates that more than ever, and is more determined than ever to live up to that responsibility.
The lockout gave him a perfect opportunity to assert himself. With no formal offseason from the club, he filled the void by coordinating offseason workouts in the Dallas area. More than 40 players attended, with Romo deciding who would do what when, and making sure everyone stuck to it.
The work itself was important. The fact everyone followed Romo's lead was, too.
"I wanted to make sure we went from one drill to the next on time; seven minutes here for stretch, got 14 plays in team, 10 in 7-on-7, things of that nature," he said. "Blow the whistle, two minutes for a water break, boom, boom, boom. These guys are professionals. They just want structure. I think that's what we were trying to provide this offseason. It was good."
Tight end Jason Witten said Romo set a tone that will carry over in camp and perhaps the entire season.
"He's always been a good leader as far as the standard he creates on the field, but I think he's let everybody know this off season what we're going to be about and that there's no time to mess around or miss an opportunity," said Witten, who is close friends with Romo. "Everybody realizes that the time's now for us."
Romo may have been the most excited to be practicing over the summer simply because he'd been away for so long.
His season ended with a jarring hit against the New York Giants on Oct. 25. Other than some light tosses before going on injured reserve, Romo had been away from playing football more than six months by the time those workouts began in May.
Of course, Romo was around the club throughout the 10 games he missed. He was there for the firing of Wade Phillips and the promotion of Garrett, and saw the way the team responded to Garrett's interim leadership.
But it's not the same when you're hurt. As teammates practiced, he was off doing rehabilitation, thinking about what he was missing.
"The easy answer is the passion for the game," he said. "You love it and you miss it and it's hard to watch the game. You want to be out there competing and doing what you love to do."
Garrett was a backup to Troy Aikman for several years. He recalls the Hall of Famer fighting those same emotions during his injury-forced layoffs.
"You have to step back and emotionally detach yourself from it and then you can re-engage from a different point of view," Garrett said. "It's hard for those guys to do it. But once you are able to do it, there is a lot to learn. Watching other people, continuing to remind yourself what a unique opportunity you had; 'when I get that chance again I'm really going to be ready.' Don't get me wrong, Tony Romo gets himself ready to play. But when your perspective changes, maybe you can get re-energized, you can get refocused."
Romo also saw teammates rally around Kitna, a veteran who hung on and thrived largely because of his leadership.
He remains Romo's biggest fan, saying the team is better off if Romo takes every snap this season. He knows that intangibles are nice, but talent matters most.
"As a quarterback, you've naturally been given the position of leadership," Kitna said. "It is about winning."
Romo has done that, boasting a career record of 39-22 since working his way up from being an undrafted third-stringer.
He'll have playmakers around him this season, from receivers Dez Bryant and Miles Austin to tight end Jason Witten. Felix Jones will be the lead running back, and Garrett will still be calling plays.
"It's great to be back out," Romo said. "I'm as excited as a guy can be to be playing football again."
- Stephen McGee
- Jason Garrett
- Wade Phillips
- Jon Kitna
- Troy Aikman
- running back
- the New York Giants