Carrollton, Texas - Tony Romo took the field under unusual circumstances Tuesday: For the first time since he's become the starting quarterback of the Dallas Cowboys, Terrell Owens wasn't part of the organization.
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T.O. was released months ago, so his absence wasn't a surprise. Still, the start of organized team activities marked the start of life without Owens and Romo's first chance to comment on it.
He didn't say much, offering up cliched lines such as, ``The organization and management decides those things,'' and, ``We have to go with the guys we have here now, go forward and keep improving.''
Coincidence or not, Romo never mentioned Owens by name, initials, jersey number or anything more personal than ``he.'' (He did avoid using, ``The player,'' as Bill Parcells referred to Owens for most of their story season together.)
``He's a great player and it's always difficult to replace someone who's had the success and been the dominant player he's been over the years,'' Romo said.
e first touchdown pass Romo threw and was a big part of his rise from undrafted, unheralded backup to starlet-dating Pro Bowler. Romo-to-Owens produced more touchdowns over the last three seasons than any other quarterback-receiver tandem in the NFL.
But things weren't the same between them last season as Owens complained about how he was being used and the team collapsed in the final months, ultimately getting routed in their finale to knock them out of the playoffs. Team owner Jerry Jones made it clear when he released Owens in March that the move was made for harmony in the locker room more than anything else.
Asked if he's spoken to Owens since then, Romo said, ``I'm just going to keep that stuff personal between me and him.''
He also dismissed a question about whether personality problems ruined last season.
``When you win, do you have great chemistry?'' Romo said. ``I don't know that the chemistry was that different last year than the year before, but we went 13-3. So, I think injuries were a part of it. I think people not performing up to all of our own levels that we might be able to perform up to. I think we all looked at ourselves and wished we would have played better last year in certain games and in certain situations. You go back and you look at it and you try to improve and you try to fix it for the next time. And that's all you can do as a competitor.''
e first team Tuesday, Roy Williams and Patrick Crayton were the receivers. Miles Austin and Sam Hurd were the second-teamers. The production of those four will go a long way toward determining whether dumping T.O. was the right move.
``Guys have to step up and pick up the slack,'' Romo said. ``Guys are working hard, I know that. Whether they're going to do it, we're going to find out this year. But I definitely have confidence in the young guys to step up and perform.''
Whether Williams can handle being the lead receiver already is a major storyline for this season. Those posing the question include former Cowboys greats Troy Aikman, Michael Irvin and Deion Sanders.
Williams thinks people are basing their opinions too much on how he played late last season, after he arrived in a midseason trade from Detroit. Romo was hurt at the time, then Williams was playing through an injury by the time the quarterback returned. Of course, there also was the issue of Owens wanting the ball thrown his way. When the ball did go to Williams, he didn't always catch it, either. He caught only 16 passes in seven games with Romo.
``Last year, we didn't really talk because we didn't know each other,'' Williams said Tuesday. ``I was scared to cross his boundary and I guess he was afraid to cross my boundary. But now we are talking, good friends, co-workers trying to achieve the same goal. We respect each other.''
iams said he and Romo have been throwing together since March 2, which is just a few days before Owens was cut.
``It's paying off so far,'' he said. ``But we still have a long way to go.''
For Williams, Tuesday was his first time as the No. 1 receiver in Dallas. It also was his first time wearing No. 4 since he's joined the Cowboys. He'll switch back to No. 11 for games, but broke out the number he wore during his standout college career with the Texas Longhorns ``to remind myself where I come from and for all the doubters.''
``It feels good to have it on,'' he said.
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