It was funny, really. For a moment, practice at the Dallas Cowboys minicamp there was a bit of levity.
Romo nearly pulled off a fast one. He switched jerseys with Caleb Hanie, so he could do 7on7. Garrett caught Romo before the snap @NBCDFW— David Watkins (@dwatkinsNBC5) June 17, 2014
Tony Romo wearing Caleb Hanie's jersey (photo from Sports Day's Louis DeLuca) pic.twitter.com/ZEHQoksiR9— Jon Machota (@jonmachota) June 17, 2014
Tony Romo, apparently straining at the bit to get back into full practice rotations, got the third string quarterback to help him try to pull a fast one on the head coach, but didn't take into account that he is, well, a bit bigger than Hanie. The roster at DallasCowboys.com has Hanie at 222 and Romo at 236 (both are 6-2), and apparently the extra pounds gave Romo away. (His weight is a topic of some discussion.)
It is a striking contrast, of course. Romo, the unquestioned starter, is literally trying to deceive the coaching staff to get some more reps. Meanwhile, Kyle Orton continues his holdout for whatever goal he is pursuing. And while Orton sits, Brandon Weeden is eagerly grasping at the second chance at an NFL career that he has been given.
The contrast between the starter and the hopeful backup on one hand and the guy who had a position on the team virtually guaranteed on the other could not be more clear. Just that alone makes me wonder if there is really any chance of Orton being on the team this year, even if he does show up at some point. I have to guess that the experience of the team with Jay Ratliff would prejudice them against Orton being back in the locker room.
More importantly, it shows clearly that the incumbent starter is more than ready to go out and prove he is back from his back surgeries. Obviously the team is taking a very cautious approach with him. After seeing Sean Lee go down the team is going to do everything it can to protect the players, with mandatory knee braces on linemen and compression shorts for receivers and defensive backs. But that was likely going to be true in Romo's case anyway. With his experience and the things that Linehan is keeping consistent from the old terminology, he does not need a lot of time in 11-on-11 or 7-on-7 sessions to be ready for live action. For the tweaks he does need to make, there are other ways.
Romo not going through QB individuals but doing some pre snap calls with Scott Linehan— Todd Archer (@toddarcher) June 17, 2014
Given the nature of Romo's relationship with Jason Garrett, the whole jersey-swapping episode may have more in common with George Selvie and his visit to a wrestling match than a real plot to get some extra work (although media reports are playing it as a real, if botched, attempt). Either way, it does send a pretty clear message that the leader of the team is willing to go beyond what is expected of him to try and make this season a success. And, yes, it does show the way Romo leads this team by putting everything he has on the field. He also is planning to put in some extra work between minicamp and training camp, although not necessarily "uniquely running mountains" as Jerry Jones put it last year. He doesn't feel like he has as much ground to make up compared to his health last year.
"Miles ahead of last year,'' Romo said of his conditioning now compared to last June. "I don't think they're comparable. I think last year I was just starting around this point so this year I've had whatever months to kind of get myself into feeling like I can go."
Meanwhile, Weeden is showing every sign that he wants to prove he deserves the backup job, not to just inherit it by default. Despite his struggles with the Cleveland Browns, the Dallas staff has always thought he has talent.
For now, the Cowboys are treating Orton's
pouting at home not being at camp the same way they are the loss of Lee: They are hoping the replacement is already on the roster. With Romo being kept off the field for most of the practice sessions, Weeden gets the benefit of more snaps. Hanie and Dustin Vaughn also are getting more work than they would have if Romo was healthy or Orton was present, but Weeden is running with the firsts. That is higher quality work than he would have seen. It means he has a better chance of success just because he is out there with the players who do their job the best, and it also means that the staff gets to evaluate him more accurately when they don't have to worry as much about whether a broken play was on him or on the players he would have been working with.
There is always a chance things could change, but for now, it looks like the Cowboys have the right quarterbacks in the minicamp - in more ways than one.