The Dallas Cowboys' training camp has seen its share of roster tumult. Both starting wide receivers and the tight end are out with injuries. The starting offensive line can't get on the field together. Key defensive players from Morris Claiborne to Mike Jenkins to Jay Ratliff to DeMarcus Ware have missed time. It's hard to get into the rhythm of preparing for the season when you can't get your full squad on the field.
"You got to have mental toughness," Romo said. "Everybody on the football team, at the end of the day, you have to be at your best, regardless of the circumstance, and that's your approach you got to take as a football team and as each individual."
He can't magically fix the injuries to the Cowboys' best players. He has to deal with what's left of the offensive roster, starting Saturday night against the St. Louis Rams.
Romo joked that he's completed a pass to every backup wide receiver on the roster in every individual drill. The reality is, he might have to do it in the regular season.
This is what Romo needs to be for the Cowboys -- the player who stays steady amid the storm. When you look around the league at the champion quarterbacks who have emerged as their teams' reliable leaders -- Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, Eli Manning -- you see guys about whom their teammates constantly say things like, "He's always the same, no matter what." Romo is at the point in his career at which he has no choice but to be that guy.
The perception of Romo is, of course, otherwise -- that he's somehow an insufficient leader. This is the result of some bad fourth-quarter interceptions he's thrown and his reputation for coming up small in big games. But outside perception cannot (and does not) concern Romo. His job is to be perceived inside his own locker room as the leader, and the steadying influence in times of uncertainty. When you're around the Cowboys, you can tell that Romo's teammates look at him that way, regardless of outside perception. And as long as he's developed that inside the locker room, it doesn't really matter what anyone else thinks.
This season could offer Romo an opportunity to shore up that reputation -- to emerge as the kind of guy who leads and performs when things around him seem to be falling apart, to be the quarterback who gets the most out of receivers of whom not much is expected. The Cowboys' roster is thin in a couple of important areas and could open the season without some of its key contributors. As long as Romo can stay calm and steady while all of that is going on, he'll be doing his job as the team's leader. Throughout a camp riddled with injuries and other issues, he's clearly managed to be just that.