Romo details Cowboys' player-run practices, which draw crowd

McKINNEY, Texas -- No coaches. No reporters. No fans. Just football.

Tony Romo and the Dallas Cowboys kind of like it that way. For now, at least.

With the lockout keeping NFL teams from their usual offseason practices, Romo has organized a series of workouts that have been attended by more than 40 players.

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"Being back on the field, guys get their juices flowing a little bit," the quarterback said Monday. "It's not really work when you're out there. You can tell when guys are running around, they're enjoying it."

The sessions, which began last week, aren't just guys hanging out or throwing around balls. They are highly structured, with Romo watching the clock and blowing a whistle at the end of each drill so everyone knows to move on to the next one. There are walkthrough periods and specific plays to be worked on each day.

"It's literally like we're doing the same things we'd be doing at an OTA -- the tempo and everything," Romo said. "I've been around it long enough that I have plenty of schedules laying around my house that I've been able to use for the time frame. We're at stretch for seven minutes. Bam, you go right into 'pat and go.' We move right into 'move the ball.' And guys are going. You jump in and, boom, you're in the next play. We're pushing it. ... I can't imagine other teams going quite to the extent of the team practices, and that's exciting to us."

Players haven't said when or where they are gathering because they don't want anyone watching. Why be so secretive?

"It just doesn't benefit us in any way to be going out there and letting people (watch)," Romo said. "If we run a certain route and the defense busts on a play, and Jason Witten runs up the middle of the field and it looks like someone didn't cover him, then someone is to blame. ...

"We don't need that from outside influences right now. It just needs to be about us, and about improvement. I think sometimes when you bring media or people in to talk about it, then it kind of adds (pressure). Now all of a sudden, guys would be doing things they probably don't need to be doing."

The Cowboys have a new defensive coordinator in Rob Ryan. While Dallas still will use a 3-4 front, Ryan's playbook is different from the one that Wade Phillips left behind. The terminology is different, too, which is part of what players are learning.

Romo said there are times when the defense will stop and discuss a particular play to make sure everyone understands what to do. He said such breaks are easier to do at this kind of informal workout.

That level of detail shows the Cowboys aren't getting together strictly for bonding. Romo said they could go bowling if that was their aim.

"Personally, I think it's about sharpening skills and getting better," he said. "I think the bonding stuff comes with doing that."

Leadership, too.

Romo has often been criticized for not taking charge like many established quarterbacks do. This shows otherwise, with the large turnout indicating he has plenty of followers.

Romo downplayed his leadership role, but he mentioned several times that he's relying on leaders at various positions to set a tone within their group.

"We need them to buy in to committing to being at this, No. 1, and also to being energized and passionate when they're out there because it's going to trickle down," he said. "That group then feels the need to be out there and the need to get better and to compete when we're out there. We have a bunch of great guys, a bunch of leaders and people who are committed to doing this. I think it's been a great offseason so far, it really has for us."

Romo said the new crop of draft picks has been invited. He said one or two guys were "making arrangements as we speak" and that veterans who haven't been there also are being urged to join them.

Dez Bryant is among those players who have attended. With no trainers there to monitor the wide receiver's recovery from a broken ankle, Romo said teammates are making sure Bryant is careful.

"He's competitive, so he wants to be involved," Romo said. "If he gets tight or sore, he goes off to the side and jogs. But when it feels good, he moves through some drills. But we're not going to throw him into the fray yet."

As for Romo's recovery from a broken collarbone that kept him out of the final 10 games last season, he said that long has been finished.

"By the end of the season, it was almost completely healed," he said. "It probably took another three or four weeks to feel completely comfortable. But it's a broken bone. It happens."

Romo spoke after failing in his latest bid to qualify for the U.S. Open golf tournament. On a windy day at a tough course, he shot a 9-over-par 81 in a local qualifying round.

"It's disappointing, but this isn't football," said Romo, who reached the sectionals last year and had a chance to advance had he not bailed out to attend an offseason Cowboys workout. "I'm a lot more emotional when it comes to football games."

Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press

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