OXNARD, Calif. -- For the first time this training camp, quarterback Tony Romo missed a full day of walkthrough and practice. Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett assures us the absence is part of the "monitoring" that goes into bringing back any one of the club's 10 to 14 players recovering from injuries this off-season.
"Tony is in a group of about 10 to 12 to 14 guys who we are really just monitoring as we enter training camp," Garrett said Tuesday. "We identified guys before the start of camp and different guys will be on different schedules. We talked about the PUP and the NFI guys, what they’re going to do in their rehab, and then some of the veteran players, guys who have played for a long time, other guys who are coming off of injuries, we’re going to be deliberate with them as we go here."
Romo is coming off his worst season as a starter injury wise. In 2015, the Eastern Illinois product only played four games and sustained two fractures to his left collarbone for a total of three for his NFL career. Garrett says for Romo to miss the second full day is not concerning because he isn't missing any significant practice time, what with the two sides of the ball "going against air" until Monday.
Said Garrett: "The practices yesterday and the practices today are going to be offense working on one field and defense working on the other field, not going against each other in competitive situations, so we feel like he got some good work in yesterday, dial him back today and he’ll go against the defense tomorrow. We anticipate him and some of these other guys being able to practice."
The institution of "Romo Wednesday" and its training camp permutations were borne out of the coaching staff managing his return from a discectomy in 2014. The staff and quarterback discovered that if Romo took the first day of the practice week off -- Wednesday -- and had him work with trainers to strengthen his core, he would have the ability to play at a Pro Bowl level on Sundays. The practice continued even into the 2015 training camp when Romo was ostensibly healed from his back surgery and well into the regular season. Over spring workouts, Romo said not only was his collarbone healed, but his back finally had a chance to heal with the 12 games missed and an entire off-season to recover.
When asked on May 25 if his back was no longer a problem, here is how Romo responded:
"Well, that’s a relative term. I do think it’s much-improved as far as, I’ve used this term before, the further I get removed from the surgery, now it’s been quite awhile, I can go long periods of time doing things that I could do before but there would be short periods of time, it just gets heavy or it needs a break or rest in that regard. The torque you put on it. The jolting of all the stuff, hits, all that stuff takes a toll over time. When you have multiple back surgeries, I think that you understand the process sometimes, it’s a little different. I had the one when it came to the herniated disk, that part of it just takes time. Feel good now about where it’s at. Hopefully it continues because I’m able to do a lot more in the workload that I’ve been able to, like I said before, in three or four years.''
To only practice one of the first two days at training camp cannot be that much of a workload, especially when the two squads aren't even facing each other in individual or team portions of camp.
The silver lining of Romo missing any time at camp is it gives the coaching staff a chance to evaluate their three other quarterbacks on the roster.
"One of the byproducts in Tony’s situation is that Kellen Moore does get more reps," Garrett said. "We get to see Kellen [Moore] work with that first group in the first huddle and we get a chance to see Dak Prescott and Jameill Showers as well working with that second group, so excited about the opportunity to see those guys in that environment as well as help Tony and some of those other guys really be at their best over the course of the next three weeks."
ZEKE AND YE SHALL FIND
Cowboys rookie running back Ezekiel Elliott cannot wait any longer to put on the pads and go against the defense on Monday.
"I'm just excited to get out there and compete," Elliott said. "It's kind of been hard to past couple of days not really doing any offense versus defense. But football is a little bit boring when you're going against air, so I'm just excited to gets the pad on and get physical."
Taken fourth overall in the draft in April, Elliott is seen by many to be the missing ingredient to the Cowboys' success. Yes, in spite of a credible pass rush, adding a dynamic running back to fill the DeMarco Murray void can help Dallas recapture their 2014 winning ways. Back at that time, the Cowboys had a lack of credible leaders on the defense alone. How were they to stop anyone? The offense would have to put up 35 points a game, prognosticators thought. As it turned out, Murray's historic first eight games with a touchdown and 100 yards rushing -- a feat no back in NFL history had accomplished -- propelled Dallas to a 6-2 start en route to a division crown and playoff win.
Certainly Elliott has better physical traits than Murray, which has led people to anoint the 2015 Heisman Runner-Up. Five-time Super Bowl champ Charles Haley even chided Elliott about it at practice.
Elliott knows the outside has placed lofty expectations upon him, but he asserts they are not any higher than those he has for himself in 2016.
Said Elliott: "I think the outside expectations really don't mean much to me. I don't think anyone can expect anything more of myself than me and my teammates. And that's all that matters."
And what are those expectations, Zeke?
"I expect to go out there and help this team win football games."
As Elliott salivates over facing the defense in full pads tomorrow, the court of public opinion is still undecided about his involvement in the domestic violence allegations hurled his way back on July 22. Though it was from a former girlfriend who Elliott and his party claim vowed revenge against him for leaving her, there is a specter that won't vanish until the NFL investigates the matter and reaches their conclusions.
"I'm not going to comment on anything regarding legal matters right now," Elliott replied when asked about the allegations. "But I love to talk about football."
Third-year defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence, who will spend the first four games suspended for violating the league's substance abuse policy, expressed deep regret for the unnecessary setback he will put upon his team during the first quarter of the 2016 campaign.
"We’re a team, so somebody goes down, you’ve got to admit to your decisions and your mistakes," Lawrence explained. "I feel like that was the right thing to do because I feel like my team count on me as a leader, you know, and I ain't prove myself to them. I had to step up like a man and let them know I’m sorry."
Lawrence led the club in sacks with eight in 2015. Entering his third year in the NFL, 2016 was supposed to be an optimistic moment when he filled the defensive line leadership void vacated by Jeremy Mincey, now a free agent. Instead, the Cowboys are going to face Eli Manning, Kirk Cousins, Jay Cutler, and whoever San Francisco trots out under center with the likes of Ryan Russell and Benson Mayowa rushing from the edges.
"I mean, I’m going to deal with it by trying to help my young guys and making sure they’re ready," Lawrence said. "Just letting them know how the offense sets, I’m just going to work as hard as I can off the field, you know? Just by doing them film studies and giving them little keys or whatever they need, I’m here for the team."
Even if Lawrence didn't face the suspension, a question mark surrounding his productivity in 2016 would revolve around his discectomy in late January. Currently, Lawrence is 275 and hopes to drop an additional five to 10 pounds so he can be "lean and mean" when he comes back on Oct. 9 against Cincinnati. With four games erased, he only has 12 games to utilize for his breakout season, an obvious challenge.
Said Lawrence: "It’s going to be tougher, but like I said I’ve got to stay committed to my goals and to my teammates so when I get back, I’ll be ready."
Darius Eubanks signed with the Cowboys on Saturday but has opted to un-do that deal due to some injury history. So scratch him from your roster ... Travis Frederick to our Mike Fisher on contract stuff: “I think it’s really important, for anybody in professional sports, to be able to compartmentalize everything. You gotta leave family aside, especially when you come out here to training camp and you’re leaving your family back in Dallas or wherever they are, to really focus on football. It’s a reminder that we need to leave all of those things separate, especially when we come out here on the field.’' ... The NFL reportedly will not clear the Cowboys to wear the "Arm in Arm'' decals on their helmets in regular-season games. ... Zack Martin took some walkthrough snaps at center on Sunday. The trickle-down effect here? It can keep backup guard Ron Leary active on Sundays, rather than having a 'specialist'' backup center making the 46-man. ... training camp attendance was up from 4,531 on Saturday to 4,598 on Sunday. ... The team will be in pads for the Monday workout.
THE FINAL WORD
Sean Lee on Jaylon Smith's college tape: "It’s as good as you’re going to find from a college tape. I couldn’t find anything he couldn’t do. ... He’s like a sponge. The guy is constantly trying to learn. It’s a matter of time for him."