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Irvin comes to defense of Romo

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SAN ANTONIO – There were a couple of times during the opening practice of Dallas Cowboys training camp Wednesday when quarterback Tony Romo(notes) was his confounding self.

The athletic Romo, who possesses one of the quickest releases in the game, sometimes just seems to go into a brain cramp. One such occasion was when he tossed an errant deep pass toward Miles Austin(notes) that was so far off it ended up being tipped for an interception.

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Romo, front, during Wednesday's practice session.
(Eric Gay/AP Photo)

During another instance, he threw a deep ball toward Roy Williams against no defense. When Williams zigged, Romo threw the zag and the pass landed more than 10 yards from where Williams was running. But for all the naysayers who look at Romo over the past two years and put the blame firmly on him for Dallas' recent failure, former Cowboys wide receiver Michael Irvin has one thing to say.

"Can we get Drew Bledsoe(notes) back out here [for] just a week so you guys can really fall back in love with Tony?" asked Irvin, a man with the gift of both Hall of Fame grab and gab. "Let's put Drew Bledsoe back out here, because sometimes when you have a pretty girl for awhile, you forget how pretty she is. But when you throw the ugly girl next to her, you say, 'No, I'm really doing well.' Maybe we need to bring Drew out so we know we're really doing well."


While Irvin's jokes were at a high expense to Bledsoe, the point was well taken. People forget that by Bledsoe's last two years, his combination of clay feet and slow internal clock made him the target of pass rushers everywhere.

Since then, Romo's combination of a high-profile (and recently ex-) girlfriend and other surrounding drama has made him a target for pundits everywhere. And just about everywhere you look, there are critics ready to take their shots at all things Cowboys.

Between sunning himself on the beach with Jessica Simpson in Cabo San Lucas before a playoff game two seasons ago, golfing, downplaying ugly losses and having problems with departed wide receiver Terrell Owens(notes), Romo has caught enough flak to fill a 15-year career.

"Way too much. Too much. It really is [too much]," Irvin said. "Tony is 27-12 over his first 39 games. I don't know anyone, on any team, at any time … who wouldn't take a quarterback when you say he's going to be 27-12 over his first 39 games. Every coach, every GM, every owner will raise their hand and say, 'Give me that guy.' That's the bottom line.

"I was coming through the airport and I had people say to me, 'Do you think we should get rid of Romo?' I wanted to ground all the planes and go on the microphone and say, 'Are you people serious?' Stop it already. Will you stop with this mess? You are reading too much into the Jessica stuff – not to say Tony has helped in that. And [he] can't come out after a game when emotions are still high like in Philadelphia and say – and he was just trying to deal with it – that if this is the worst thing that happens to me, I'll be fine. You can't do that. I'm sure Tony would acknowledge that was a mistake. But that being said, to be talking about getting rid of Tony is absolutely … ridiculous."

But this is what happens when you're a quarterback, particularly for the Dallas Cowboys. You attract attention like a mouse in a snake pit. New backup quarterback Jon Kitna(notes) noticed right away. After a 12-year career that has featured stops in Seattle, Cincinnati and Detroit, the 36-year-old Kitna was flabbergasted by what he saw Wednesday as several thousand fans came to the Alamodome to watch practice.

"There's nothing I've seen that's like this," Kitna said. "I'm sure there is, maybe New England and New York, places like that that have had a lot of winning. But this is incredible to me. … They watch intently at practice. Here, you have a false start at practice and they boo. It's kind of funny to me."

This season will be especially difficult for Romo because he's now the biggest circus in town now that Owens has been cast aside. Even without the extra pub he was getting in People and US magazine, Romo will be both the lightning and divining rod of the Cowboys. And when a team like the Cowboys has gone 13 years without a playoff win (only Detroit in the NFC has gone longer), there's a lot of angst in the fan base.

On Wednesday, Romo caused a minor stir when he decided not to talk to the press, preferring to wait until after the Thursday morning session. Even so, he was the subject of plenty of questions for everyone from tight end Jason Witten(notes) to coach Wade Phillips.

The bottom line is this: People want to know if Romo is focused for the upcoming season.

"To be honest, I never noticed him not being focused," Phillips said. "The guy comes to everything he's supposed to, he works hard at everything and that's why I think … in the last two years he has gotten better. He knows there are things he needs to do better, but he's a real talent and he can help win games for us. He's done everything we've asked, so we have to help him [as coaches].

The questioning got to the point that Phillips started shaking his head in mild disgust when Romo's golfing jones was mentioned.

"The guys play video games off the field. I mean, they have a life. … When he makes all the workouts and works hard and does the right things, I don't think playing golf some takes away from his focus in football," Phillips said. "No more than what everybody else does with their leisure time. There [are] a lot of things that people do, [but] because he's the quarterback and he's under the microscope, some people are going to say he didn't do this and he didn't do that."

For now, what Romo hasn't done is lead the Cowboys to a playoff victory.

Fair point, but Irvin is willing to be patient.

"At least you get an opportunity at a playoff win when you're 27-12," Irvin said. "When you're 12-27, you don't even get the opportunity at a playoff win. You're measuring it the wrong way. You're talking about a young guy in 39 games. That's not much experience now. So you see there's a chance to get better. That's good. You got to give it time. These things were being said about Eli [Manning] two years ago and Eli went and won a Super Bowl and now no one says that. I don't know much about this thing called football, but I know …"

Irvin's voice trailed off at that point, unable to finish any sentence that starts off with the idea that he doesn't know much about football.

That's almost as ridiculous as saying Romo should be benched.

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