Sports Outside the Beltway

How Good is Tony Romo?

Mickey Spagnola says that, for all the talk of finally finding a free safety that can cover, Wade Phillips’ 3-4, and even the lack of depth at backup nose tackle, the 2007 Cowboys will be exactly as good as Tony Romo.

[A]ll these questions pale in the face of the big un’ – that one which blinks in glowing red neon lights: Is . . . Tony . . . Romo . . . the . . . real . . . deal . . . at . . . quarterback?

Because if he isn’t, struggling at backup nose tackle won’t make one bit of difference. If he isn’t, then even an improved defense won’t save this team. If he isn’t, then what will it matter if the top nub of Terrell Owens’ ring finger is dysfunctional or not? If he isn’t, all the pass-rush pressure in the world from the team’s first-round draft choice won’t amount to a hill of beans.

Coaches can out-coach a linebacker deficiency. They can out-coach a problem at running back, and for sure at backup nose tackle. But they just can’t out-coach a problem at quarterback, and I don’t care if your backup is a guy with 15 years of NFL experience and a Super Bowl ring on his finger.

Now this is not to suggest Antonio Ramiro Romo can’t play quarterback in the NFL. Not at all. The 27-year-old from Eastern Illinois University proved over 10 games last year that an undrafted quarterback from a Division I-AA school who had not taken even one snap during his first three years in the league definitely can in the face of such long odds, giving hope to every Matt Moore and Richard Bartell out there.


And while all the right people seem convinced Romo can do the deal, although some of that might stem from shear desperation for him to do so at the most important position on an NFL team, you can’t will his success. He must prove it – again – passing the NFL test of consistency, the one factor which separates Steve Pelluer from Troy Aikman.

Now then, Parcells, the guy who staked the final games of his NFL coaching career to Romo, definitely believes Romo can be successful in this league. But as always with Parcells, there was a trailing “but” he expressed during one of the last conversations we had at The Ranch before his departure. “But he has to take care of a few things, and I’ve told him what they were,” said Parcells, who then stopped short of saying what he told Romo.

Well here, let me guess.

One, keep your shoulder up when throwing the ball. Former quarterbacks coach David Lee worked endlessly with Romo during his three seasons behind the scenes getting him out of the habit of dropping his elbow down when throwing the football. That’s a recipe for disaster (sorry, a little bit of Bill still is here) for 6-2 quarterbacks. Romo seemingly broke the habit at the outset until reverting back to some of his old habits late in the season and when under increased pocket pressure.

Two, stay with the play as long as possible. In other words, don’t get happy feet back there at the first sign of danger. While fans fall in love with scrambling quarterbacks and guys who make something out of nothing, sometimes their decisions to bail make something at the expense of forfeiting the opportunity to make something bigger. No NFL quarterback has achieved success without being willing to stand in the pocket long enough to get a pass off while taking a hit in return. It’s part of the job description. Improv is for comedy clubs not NFL stadiums.

Three, impulse control. What has the potential to make Romo great also has the potential to send him back to Burlington, Wis. Romo will take chances, and successful NFL quarterbacks require such chutzpah. But the chances need to be calculated. He must stay with his reads and at times check down to safer alternatives rather than trying to be super-hero marksman. That Lucky Charm won’t always be riding on your shoulder as it seemed to be for Romo on some of those what’s-he-doing passes he got away with early in last year’s 10-game stretch.

So, while there is great optimism surrounding Romo, and really, well there should be, and you root for a guy who is trying to defy all the odds confronting short, undrafted quarterbacks from small schools, he is not out of the redwoods yet.

Nope, not at all. If he turns out to be the real deal, though, this team should be pretty doggone good.

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