IRVING, Texas – When Scott Linehan took over Cowboys passing game coordinator duties last spring, he didn't have a fully healthy Tony Romo in the offseason program.
Romo was still recovering from his second consecutive offseason back procedure and his participation was essentially limited to mental reps.
This year, although Linehan expects Romo to be on a "pitch count" with his throw totals, Linehan said the veteran quarterback looks good and will be able to participate much more than in the past two offseasons.
"Tony's excited because really it's the first year in the last couple years he's been able to be as healthy as he's felt probably since the first surgery he had on his back," said Linehan, who now holds the title of offensive coordinator. "I think it's different for him. It's different for us."
Romo can certainly feel a difference. He jokes with his teammates that he's "the only guy at the facility getting younger" because he's moving around much better than in 2013 or 2014.
"Just the ability to have an offseason – I haven't had that in a few years," Romo said in an interview with the Cowboys' flagship radio station 105.3 The Fan. "It's been just about rehab and maintaining. When you're doing that, it's what you have to do when you come back from surgery. But you don't really strengthen. If anything, you're just trying to find a way to manage it and be at your best at specific times of the year.
"I'm really able to push it a little bit right now, which has been exciting with the legs, the upper body and some of the stuff I haven't been able to do for two, two and a half, three years."
The Cowboys are currently in Phase Two of the NFL's voluntary offseason strength and conditioning program, which permits individual on-field instruction from the coaching staff. The offense and defense can work as separate units but not against each other.
Phase Three, which includes organized team activities (OTAs) and the June mandatory team minicamp, begins the week after next.
Last year, Romo pointed toward training camp to ramp up his on-field workload, and even then the Cowboys closely monitored his reps. The plan worked, and with a perfectly balanced offensive attack, Romo was an MVP finalist with 34 touchdowns, nine interceptions and a 69.9 completion percentage.
"Anybody who's had surgery, especially back surgery, you definitely can tell that it's different than other things that have happened when it is back surgery," Romo said. "For me, what I found was you can't just tough it out and work through it harder. That's not smart. You have to find out what you're able to do – what different things that you do cause it to have inflammation, to have pain, that come with it. And you just have to manage that and strengthen all the areas around it all the time. When you do that, you give yourself a chance but it takes time to come back and to grow."
Even for a 13-year veteran, participation in the teaching sessions and eventually the OTAs and minicamp can only help Romo get ready for training camp this summer.
"(Last year) he basically went through the walkthroughs and stood and was really a tuned-in spectator to what we were doing," Linehan said. "We'll get his presence and leadership in that huddle when we're actually running plays much more than we were able to last year."