Colombo Gamble Pays Out

with that," the Cowboys owner said of why this gamble is paying off. "Marc had a lot to do with that because, now he'll give Joe Juraszek (weight and conditioning coach) huge credit here, and he should because he made a difference, but Juraszek will give it up for any player that will really buy into it and is smart enough to see you can really improve yourself as a player and improve your chances of having a longer career and a more productive career. 

"So while he would give Juraszek, and I do, too, a lot of credit, I don't want to discount the credit he ought to have. I've seen a lot of players hang 'em up or not pursue with just sheer work ethic and the conscientious way he has overcome his injury." 

The Cowboys soon discovered Colombo had a little fight in him. He was willing to work. And that there was a sort of nasty streak in the mellow guy once he got on the field. He would make only cameo appearances late in 2005, and at that only on special teams. 

But Colombo continued his hard work in the off-season, and by time training camp rolled around, the Cowboys considered him healthy enough and having regained enough leg strength to adequately compete. So he was thrown into the right tackle fray with 2005's 16-game starter Rob Petitti and 2006 free-agent signee Jason Fabini. 

From an appearance sake, Colombo truthfully best looked the part. Petitti's cemented feet would never allow him to be much more than average, if that. It readily became obvious Fabini had seen better days, and had, the Cowboys releasing him last Friday. 

The job became Colombo's, but who knew it wasn't by default. 

"Now the old adage is a good one," Jones explained of the Cowboys' initial reasoning. "When a player has been a blue player, and I got to say coming in, most first-round picks, since they haven't played in the NFL, you have to at least first start with a blue. And when you got a chance to bring into your organization a player that's had some good recognition as a player, while he might not have played because of injury, he's got a chance to come on and be a really good player in the NFL. That makes a difference. It's longer odds if you were dealing with a seventh-round pick or a sixth-round pick, to come back and end up playing at this level." 

So there was pedigree on his side. And within no time, Colombo's play began qualifying Parcells' decision to go with him at right tackle. Now he wasn't exactly dominating, but at least he was sealing off the right side for Drew Bledsoe and then Tony Romo, regardless if he was getting some extra help. 

Better yet, he seemed to improve as the season drew on. 

Now, not to get carried away or dabble in hyperbole here, Colombo was not a Pro Bowler waiting to happen by no means, but he wasn't a slouch either, and it had been some time since the Cowboys had such quality play out of the right tackle position. And even that might be somewhat a backhanded compliment, since playing the position following Erik Williams' final season in 2000 had been Solomon Page, Javier Collins, Ryan Young, Kurt Vollers, Torrin Tucker and Petitti. 

Only Petitti made a roster last year, and at that, he was a game-day inactive 15 out of 16 times. 

Still, as Jones said, "When we looked at his play and the contribution he made last year, we were really impressed. It was not only at a level we could accomplish our goals as a team, but there is room for improvement." 

That's why the Cowboys only signed him to a two-year deal, but are paying him for 2007 ($5 million) as if he's a proven starter. Do what you did in 2006 again, and we'll tear up 2008 and pay you like you are ours for keeps, is what he was told. 

So as important as 2006 was for Colombo, getting his foot back in the NFL door, 2007 will be twice as important. Because if he has a repeat performance, then one of those double-digit signing bonus days will await him. And wouldn't that be something? 

Not only for Colombo, but the Cowboys, too, knowing most of their long-shot gambles this century have been money and, worse, draft picks, down the drain.                                 

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