Tony Romo stands his ground

SAN DIEGO -- The Dallas Cowboys' two starting wide receivers, center and tight end are questionable for the regular-season opener.

The projected starters at guard have yet to play in a game at the same time.

The replacement center is really a guard who has had to snap the ball almost 600 times in training camp just to get comfortable.

But quarterback Tony Romo is undeterred about the injuries and uncertainty with the Cowboys' offensive personnel with the regular-season opener against the Super Bowl champion New York Giants looming on Sept. 5.

As the Cowboys ended training camp Tuesday, Romo was trying not to go bonkers regarding his lineup.

When the regular season starts, a good chunk of the projected starting lineup will not have played any preseason games together.

Wide receivers Dez Bryant (knee) and Miles Austin (hamstring) won't play again this preseason. Austin missed the first two games, too.

Tight end Jason Witten (spleen) played just three series this summer and could miss the regular-season opener.

Center Phil Costa is battling a stiff lower back. Guard Nate Livings (hamstring) just returned to practice Monday and is developing a chemistry with David Arkin, the man who replaced Costa. Then there's Mackenzy Bernadeau, the new guard, who is also trying to find some chemistry along the offensive line.

Tackles Doug Free and Tyron Smith are switching spots and learning new techniques.

"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.

So he must complete passes to Kevin Ogletree, Cole Beasley, Tim Benford, Dwayne Harris, Danny Coale and Raymond Radway on Saturday.

Then Romo has to find No. 2 tight end John Phillips, rookie tight end James Hanna and quite possibly Andrew Szczerba. If Witten isn't around for the Week 1 game at the New York Giants, this kid from Penn State, Szczerba, could be on the active roster.

"When you're lucky enough to get a Jason or a Miles back, it makes things a lot easier," Romo said. "You still have to take the approach that you got to be great today. That's the approach you need to take."

Before Romo can even think about getting the ball downfield in the passing game, he needs protection. In the first preseason game, he was under duress and sacked once. There were zero sacks in the second game.


But the longer the injured starters miss practice time and games, it raises questions about whether the chemistry of the offensive line will be good come Week 1.

"It's comfortable," Romo said. "They're getting better and better. They keep working hard. We're going to be all right."

With the starters out, Romo is challenging his younger teammates to improve. He's not making excuses for mistakes, and at times he's slammed the ball to the ground for bad snaps and yelled at players for wrong routes or missed assignments.

Romo knows his team is better with Austin, Bryant and Witten in the lineup, but he can't allow backup players to believe their mistakes will go without some sort of punishment.

"I just think you want to win," he said. "If I get on people, it's because we need to win and that's just part of my job and that's what we need to do to improve sometimes."

Romo is making the efforts to become a better player and leader. But will he have enough talent around him to succeed?

Said Romo: "I've been around long enough to know that as long as you're not having guys go out for a full season -- that can really affect how you're going to do things -- you just have to go about doing things the same way and work to get better."