Early in Tony Romo’s time as the Dallas Cowboys’ starting quarterback, he said he felt like a sophomore in high school trying to tell seniors what to do.
Gradually, his leadership has grown and adapted in style. As he enters his 14th season, he is now on a doctorate level, spreading the word to the rest of his teammates, such as rookie Ezekiel Elliott.
“It’s been good,” Elliott said of the relationship with Romo. “Kind of a teacher-student relationship. I mean, he’s probably the smartest football mind on this team. What better guy to go to and learn the game from?”
In the spring and so far during training camp, Elliott has found himself asking Romo questions in between plays or parts of practice.
“He can ask a few more,” Romo joked.
The Cowboys plan on Elliott, who will miss about a week of practice with a sore hamstring, being a three-down back, and he has to know all of the assignments to not only earn Romo’s trust but to help keep him upright. Romo broke his collarbone twice last season on blitzes. It’s not that the running backs were at fault, but it makes clear how crucial pass protection is for more than just the five offensive linemen.
“Believe me, I’m in his ear enough,” Romo said. “I think at this point he tries to stay away a little bit. It’s good for him to hear about a lot of the little intricate stuff that is going to come up at some point. You don’t want to overload him too much right away. At the same time, he’s got to hear it and go through it. He’ll make mistakes, but every rookie does. The good ones learn from it, come back and don’t make it again.”
Elliott has made mistakes and will make more mistakes. His coaches, such as offensive coordinator Scott Linehan, said he does not make the same mistake twice.
“The best way to learn is getting out there, getting reps and making mistakes,” Elliott said. “Once you make a mistake, it’s kind of in your head what you need to do and what exactly is going on. Once you make that first mistake, it kind of clears up everything, and everything can come to you.”
Elliott was 8 years old when Romo, who is now 36, was a rookie in 2003. Romo is married and the father of two boys. Elliott just turned 21 and is single. They are at different points in their lives, but they are dependent on each other on the field.
“For the young guys, rookies, it’s always difficult,” Romo said. “I think the easy part is to just communicate with them about football. They want to be great at football. Passing on your knowledge and communicating with them. That’s the number one way to start. And then they earn your trust along the way and the coaches’. And then you start to let them really be a part of the group, if that makes sense.
“When they first got here, there was so much to learn. They make mistakes. They come back and learn. You’re always tough love, which you want them to continue to get better and then when you start to see them get better you get excited for them. And then it’s just like they’re part of the group like everybody else, which takes a little bit. You know, guys in the NFL want to see people who are going to help the football team and who are going to help the football team day in and day out. Once that happens, you’re part of the fraternity of our team.”