IRVING, Texas – Officially, Tony Romo is allowed to return to the practice field next week, but it's not like he's actually been gone.
Take it from offensive coordinator Scott Linehan, who said he feels like he's had an assistant these last five weeks while Romo has been injured.
"He's kind of like the assistant offensive coordinator at times, which, he has some great ideas," Linehan joked. "I told him if he keeps coming up with ideas, I'm going to hand him that microphone and I'll let him start calling plays so he can see how, when he calls those third downs when they don't work, see how that feels."
It's been a long wait for Romo to return to the active roster, and that wait is going to continue for at least the next few weeks. But NFL rules stipulate that a player on short-term injured reserve can begin practicing with the team after a six-week absence, with an eye on playing after eight weeks.
Linehan said the first step for a guy who hasn't taken a rep since Sept. 20 is to make sure his conditioning is up to snuff before he begins working with the offense.
"I think, the way this works now, is they got this two-week window where they can work. You kind of do it phases," he said. "First phase is throwing, running, conditioning – you try to get that conditioning. And then we'll try to get into that phase of that mental and have a week or so of taking snaps under center."
That'll present an interesting challenge for Linehan and the rest of the offensive coaching staff. Romo will be eligible to practice for two weeks before he can play, but Matt Cassel will still need to prepare for two starts before Romo can return to the roster. Linehan said they'll have to play things by ear in determining a practice routine.
"We've got to kind of see where it is, how he feels the first week, kind of get the conditioning part of it," he said. "Mentally he's going to be fine, but the conditioning part we'll see where he is and then kind of integrate him into practice into some way, shape or form.
"There'll be some adjustment. You've just got to figure out how it works in the flow of practice so you don't disrupt that for the quarterback that's going to be playing that particular game."
It's an exciting development for Romo's return to the action, but the Cowboys will be content to take it a step at a time. Which, for the time being, means Romo will have to remain in his assistant role.
"He's been great for Matt and the guys, just his presence," Linehan said. "It's hard when you're not playing. You can't really influence the approach from an expectation standpoint from what you're going to do as a player, but you can certainly help the quarterbacks with the mindset, what we're thinking when we get in this situation. And then certain plays he played against Seattle last year, how did he see a certain play if we got a certain defense. I think that really helps the other quarterbacks, especially Matt."