Cowboys Camp Day 3: Is Romo ready to lead?

SAN ANTONIO (Dallas Morning News) - Tony Romo hasn't always done what he is told.

That's true when he's moving in the pocket, it's true when he's moving through Hollywood celebrity circles, and it was true Thursday.

Before Romo spoke to the media for the first time at training camp, Cowboys public relations director Rich Dalrymple told him, "Seriously, stand on the step" on the back of a golf cart for the benefit of more than 15 TV cameras and at least 50 assembled media members.

Romo sat, saying, "Seriously, I just finished practicing."

That was about as defiant as Romo got during a 20-minute interview in which he was not asked about Jessica Simpson and the breakup (to the media's credit) and he did not offer any guarantees of postseason success (to his credit).

And his most thoughtful answer came when asked about the impact of distractions (that's media code for "Terrell Owens") on last year's disappointing 9-7 season.

"I think we didn't execute and that's predominantly the reason you lose football games," Romo said. "Can you ever really tell if anything that happens not on the field matters? I don't know. Some people say yes, some people say no."

And some people say Romo has fully arrived as an NFL quarterback.

Two Pro Bowl trips and a winning percentage close to .700 back that up.

Others say no playoff wins means no success and would point to Romo's interception against Pittsburgh or a key fumble in Philadelphia as the turning points for another Cowboys' December gone bad.

It's funny how many questions Romo gets about whether or not he has changed, or learned, or is ready to lead. His stock answer? "I'm still myself. There's not going to be anything that I'm going to change," he said.

"I don't think you get to this position, to being successful by being someone you're not."

And who is Romo, other than another guy who hasn't won a playoff game as a Cowboy?

For one, he's so much better than all those who preceded him in the post-Aikman era that there shouldn't even be any discussion as to his merits at that position.

For another, in 2008 - a "down" year for him, remember, since he missed three games with injury and did not make the Pro Bowl - he threw more touchdown passes and had a higher passer rating than anyone else in the division.

That means the only active NFC quarterback to win a Super Bowl with his current team (New York's Eli Manning) and the only active quarterback to play in five NFC title games (Philadelphia's Donovan McNabb) ranked behind Romo.

Those facts aren't going to prevent some Cowboys fans from pinning most of last season's blame on Romo.

He is, after all, the quarterback and as such, the good times of the 2007 regular season helped him to a contract with $30 million guaranteed.

I think Romo has learned (to the extent he didn't know it before) that a lot of stuff, good and bad, comes with the territory of playing quarterback for a team with five Super Bowl trophies and two Hall of Fame quarterbacks.

"When I was 25, I thought I was mature and I probably wasn't. When I was 22, I thought I was mature and I probably wasn't," he said. "I'm 29 now. I think I'm mature. Am I? I don't know."

The success Romo achieves with the Cowboys' offense this fall won't be based on who he dated or stopped dating this summer or how many birdie putts he missed at Lake Tahoe two weeks ago.

It's going to have at least a little something to do with what happens right here on the floor of the Alamodome.

"It's all about today. It's not about our first game," Romo said. "Did we improve right here, what we just did? I think we did."

More improvement is needed. The Cowboys have 28 more practices scheduled here and then another three weeks of workouts at Valley Ranch before the season begins.

And even then, we won't get that good a read on how Romo is handling the pressure that comes with his position.

As Cowboys fans have seen for too long, even with Romo's superior play to those who most recently came before him, how a season starts sometimes has absolutely nothing to do with how it ends.