Tony Romo probably won't have to sneak into competitive situations when the Dallas Cowboys hold their first training camp practice Thursday.
The 34-year-old quarterback tried to get some unauthorized reps in a jersey swap with Caleb Hanie during minicamp in June, about six months after a herniated disk knocked him out of the season finale and resulted in back surgery.
Cowboys owner Jerry Jones says he expects Romo to be "full go" for the first workout in Oxnard, California. Romo's been waiting for that signal for weeks.
"He is chomping at the bit to do more," said coach Jason Garrett, who sniffed out Romo's trick last month and kicked him out of the huddle. "We need to have discipline with him. Giving him another month before we get into a competitive practice situation is certainly going to benefit him."
When he's ready, Romo faces quite a task trying to end a four-year playoff drought. He's on his third play caller in as many seasons, Garrett's future is in doubt entering the final year of his contract, and the defense is missing its two best players after its worst season in franchise history.
Scott Linehan is the passing game coordinator and play caller after getting swept out as Detroit's offensive coordinator when coach Jim Schwartz was fired. Bill Callahan had those duties last year after Garrett gave up the dual role.
Romo still has his primary weapons in running back DeMarco Murray, receiver Dez Bryant and tight end Jason Witten. But the defense is missing linebacker Sean Lee, out for the season after tearing a left knee ligament in the first offseason workout, and DeMarcus Ware, the franchise's career sacks leader who was released in March.
"Well, I don't think you're into evaluating your football team for how good they are," Romo said. "I think you're just about getting better right now. In some cases, we have new stuff on both sides of the ball and we need to get people up to speed and need to fly around and know the system like the back of your hand so you can play at your fastest tempo and speed."
Some things to consider as the Cowboys head into training camp:
REPLACING LEE: This is the top priority. Justin Durant, signed as a free agent last year, is the top in-house candidate. Others are second-year player DeVonte Holloman and rookie fourth-round pick Anthony Hitchens. "It's a collective thing," Holloman said. "One guy's not going to replace him."
DEZ THE LEADER: Bryant is the most experienced and by far the most accomplished receiver after the release of Miles Austin. He's also entering the final year of his rookie deal and could have a big payday coming. That was hard to imagine four years ago when one of several off-field problems for Bryant was a lawsuit over unpaid jewelry bills. "I wasn't understanding the whole process of how to be a professional player," Bryant said. "As time went on, I started learning little by little and it all came together, and it still is."
D-LINE OVERHAUL: The boldest move on draft day for Dallas was moving up 13 spots to get defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence early in the second round. The Cowboys acknowledged they might have overpaid, and did so because they thought Lawrence was the best chance to replace Ware after dumping him in a salary cap move. With Ware and 2013 sacks leader Jason Hatcher gone, it's safe to say the Cowboys will rely on plenty of new names.
JOINT PRACTICES: Dallas and Oakland will practice together Aug. 12 and 13 in Oxnard. That's after the Cowboys' preseason opener in San Diego and a couple of days before they break camp. "We used to have some unbelievable practices with the Raiders way back when," said Garrett, a backup quarterback for Dallas in the 1990s. "And I have always just felt it's a good way to really spice up training camp."
YOUNG BLOCKERS: By drafting Notre Dame's Zack Martin at No. 16 in the first round, the Cowboys now have four starting offensive linemen who are 25 or younger. Center Travis Frederick and left tackle Tyron Smith figure to be in their spots for years. Ron Leary is the left guard. Martin is plugged in at right guard for the moment but could get moved next year.
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