With Tony Romo on field, Cowboys' hope returns in May

IRVING, Texas -- For the first time since Thanksgiving, Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo will be on a football field Tuesday for 11-on-11 work as the team begins its three-week run of organized team activities.

Romo had surgery in March on a left collarbone that was broken twice last season and three times since 2010.

He will be full go for OTAs as well as the June minicamp.

To hear Romo’s teammates and coach Jason Garrett tell it, the quarterback has had a great start to the offseason after missing 12 games in 2015.

“When you miss that much time, you start it sooner,” tight end Jason Witten said. “He’s in a position that he’s constantly pushing himself, evaluating it and trying to give himself an edge. He does that better than anybody, and that trickled down within the organization. When the quarterback takes that approach, every one of us should do the same thing.”

At the end of last season, Romo said his work for 2016 began earlier than normal because of the injury. The decision to have the surgery came after Romo was able to work out longer and harder to build up his conditioning and strength in his surgically-repaired back.

After a short rest following the surgery, Romo was back to work and has been throwing for the better part of a month.

While the back surgeries he underwent in 2013 are not exactly a thing of the past, Romo’s back is feeling stronger than it has in quite some time. Is it good enough for him to practice on Wednesdays during the season? We won't know until May.

But now he gets to take it to the field for the first time since Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis landed on him.

It wasn’t so much that hit that derailed the Cowboys’ season. It was the Week 2 hit from Philadelphia Eagles linebacker Jordan Hicks, which broke Romo’s collarbone the first time.

The Cowboys were banking on something of a miracle when Romo returned in Week 11 against the Miami Dolphins. Romo's comeback lasted six quarters, and the Cowboys won just once in the 11 games they played without him.

Not much has changed about the Cowboys since Romo got hurt. Greg Hardy is gone. The Cowboys took a low-risk chance that included no guaranteed money on Hardy hoping he would realize this might be his last chance to secure a long-term financial windfall. That didn’t happen. Jeremy Mincey, who led the Cowboys in sacks in 2014, won’t be back.

But the Cowboys re-signed Rolando McClain, Morris Claiborne, James Hanna, Kyle Wilber, Lance Dunbar, Jeff Heath and some others. The free-agent pickups -- Cedric Thornton, Benson Mayowa, Alfred Morris, Joe Looney -- were modest.

The Cowboys’ success will once again hinge on Romo, as it mostly has since he took over at quarterback in 2006. Romo's injury was the biggest reason the Cowboys finished 4-12 last season.

In a lot of cities where a quarterback is entering his 10th season as the full-time starter, the beginning of organized team activities would be met with a shrug.

It’s a little different with the Cowboys because of how much they continue to lean on Romo. The drafting of Ezekiel Elliott can be viewed as the Cowboys looking to take pressure off their franchise quarterback with a nod to their 2014 success when DeMarco Murray ran for 1,845 yards.

Did Murray’s running open up things for Romo’s passing or did Romo’s passing open things up for Murray’s running? Romo and Murray finished third in the MVP voting with two first-place votes apiece.

Romo hasn’t played a full season since 2012. He missed the season finale in 2013 because of a back injury. He missed one game in 2014 with two transverse process fractures. He missed 12 games last year with collarbone injuries.

Romo turned 36 in April, but Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones has said that Romo has three, four or five years left. Romo has said he would like to play until he’s 40.

It’s May. It’s an OTA. It’s only a step, but Romo is on a football field.

Hope has returned to the Cowboys.