The Cowboys quarterback on coming back even stronger from a second back surgery, getting the opportunity to finally play behind a reliable offensive line, and what the future holds for 2014 and beyond

By Robert Klemko
August 14, 2014


Tony Romo (John W. McDonough/Sports Illustrated/The MMQB) Tony Romo (John W. McDonough/Sports Illustrated/The MMQB)

OXNARD, Calif. — After a recent lively intrasquad scrimmage in which Tony Romo dazzled, the 34-year-old quarterback sat down with The MMQB to talk about the future. His eyes lit up at the mention of Cowboys first-round rookie guard Zack Martin, who just a day earlier had engaged in even livelier one-on-one battles with defensive tackle Henry Melton, a free-agent acquisition this offseason.

“He stopped him a couple times,” Romo says of Martin, “but did you see that spin move by Melton?! That was special.” How did Romo see those one-on-ones while he was sitting out of practice? “We don’t normally watch those drills,” he adds, “but sometimes you end up seeing it on film.”

Romo, who is still making his way back from back surgery to repair a herniated disk in December, is expected to see his first preseason action against the Ravens this weekend. Even though he hasn’t been playing full-time for all of training camp, nothing has gone unnoticed—not even linemen battling it out in the early days of August. Here, the Dallas Cowboys quarterback shares his thoughts on the upcoming season and beyond.

On rehabbing his now twice surgically-repaired back...

I spend anywhere from two hours a day to four hours a day on it. If you want to play sports after back surgery you have to make that routine a part of it. You can still come back and be the same guy you were; you just have to work at it. The exercises are stuff you should be doing when you’re young, but you just don’t know it. They focus on your glutes, your abs, your hamstrings. There are little tedious things you can do to strengthen those areas which make you use your back less. More and more, strength coaches are incorporating that stuff.

On his offensive line, and specifically, Zack Martin...

It’s been a while since we’ve had a line this good. These guys are smart, dedicated, hard-working and they’re good. So I think we have a great chance to do some things we haven’t been able to do in years past. It’s going to be fun watching them play together this year. Zack is not your regular rookie who’s coming in wide-eyed and not understanding. He feels like a fourth-year guy who knows the system. I’m shocked whenever he doesn’t do something right, schematically. You can do a lot of different things in front of him right before the snap and he still picks it up quick. We’re lucky to have him.


On whether he feels the need to compensate for a defense that ranked among the league’s worst last season, especially after losing All-Pro linebacker Sean Lee to an ACL tear this summer...

You have to trust your defense. If you don’t, you’re already setting yourself up for a long season. So I believe in those guys. I believe they can be much improved from last season. My job is to score more points than the other team. Obviously, that’s a lot easier to do when your defense is playing great. I’ve experienced that one or two years when we had a top 10 defense. In those years you can rely on them a little bit. In other years you can’t. You can’t just rely on a perfect situation as a quarterback or a player. You’ve got to go create that. Part of that is working your tail off as a unit to handle whatever situation arises. We’re taking steps toward that.

On Dez Bryant’s progress...

I think its just a consistency thing. He’s always been really, really good. It’s just that every day he’s bringing it. He’s always been a hard worker, but sometimes you can relax here or there, and he’s just not doing that right now. Its really setting him apart.

On his dream for his sons, and whether they’ll be allowed to play football (Romo and wife, Candice, had their second child in March)...

For our kids, more than anything, we just want them to find something they enjoy and attack it and be passionate about it. If you want to be a doctor, by all means. If you want to play football, by all means. It’s just about them working hard, being good people and then finding something they really have a passion for and going out and doing it.

On financial literacy and career longevity...

I do remember coming to the league, and I feel like only 5% of guys have ever heard of a 401k at that point. The league has done a real good job of giving guys avenues before they go broke. Some take advantage; others don’t. You can’t really show guys what life will be like when football’s over. I believe it’s a harsh reality and a rude awakening. You spend your whole life working, committing and trying to become a player and play well. Most players do not have a backup option, and that’s part of what makes them great; that sense of desperation. That’s what makes it difficult when time runs out. You need a structure set up just to be happy and comfortable and have another source of joy in the morning. There’s the big picture, with your faith and your family. But it’s hard because the game gives you this natural high that’s hard to duplicate in real life. How do you match it?

You have to ask yourself, What are you going to wake up for?

The other part is, you have to understand that this four or five years is going to bring you the money you’ll have for the rest of your life. And you have to consider that it’s not all about you. But when you’re young it’s all about you, and you do things to feel great and comfortable right now. As you get more aware and the league continues to share the stories, guys will do a better job. But I don’t think anybody’s really prepared for it to end. You have to try to replace that great feeling that you had. It will never be that same feeling as football, but it doesn’t have to be.

On how his current health struggles relate...

You want to work but you have to take it easy. And it makes you think, When football is taken from me, how am I going to react? That’s a very difficult thing, because football is all we know. That was one of the hardest things for me, watching practice, because I have to rest my back. But I love that feeling that I need to be out there. That’s how I’m going to feel until I’m done. When it’s over, you’re not going to have 70,000 people screaming and all that adrenaline, but I believe you can replace some of that feeling with other things.

On when he’ll retire...

I assume it will be five years, but you just kind of go until you’re done. Life happens. It’s the same as when you play. At first you’re just trying to get better and make the football team and then, bam, you’re a starter, then you’re playing well. Life just happens. And that’s how it ends. You’re going and going and then, bam.


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