ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) – Tony Romo hasn’t taken a snap in a game since he played through a back injury to lead a drive that kept Dallas in playoff contention late last season.
The 34-year-old quarterback has eased his way back in since surgery to repair a herniated disk, staying out of competitive situations during the offseason and taking frequent days off at training camp.
Romo won’t play long in the Cowboys’ preseason home opener against Baltimore on Saturday night, but he will be the starter after skipping the first exhibition game last week in San Diego.
He led the offense in two joint practices with Oakland this week. Dallas broke camp in California on Friday.
“I felt like this was a big week for Tony,” tight end Jason Witten said. “I felt like this was a really big week for our team and felt he’s done a really great job setting the tempo for us.”
Romo finished a winning drive after the injury to beat Washington last December but had to watch from home when the Cowboys lost to Philadelphia with a playoff berth on the line. He gets his first chance to run the offense with new play-caller Scott Linehan.
It will be Joe Flacco’s second game with first-year Ravens offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak. He brings the West Coast offense to coach John Harbaugh’s staff after being fired in the middle of last season with the Texans on their way to 14 straight losses after a 2-0 start.
Linehan and Kubiak had strong debuts last week. Romo backup Brandon Weeden completed 13 of 17 passes for 107 yards and a touchdown against the Chargers, while Flacco led an 80-yard scoring drive in his only possession against San Francisco.
And Linehan should have several more toys to play with after Witten, running back DeMarco Murray and receiver Dez Bryant sat against the Chargers. He also seems to think a lot of Murray’s backup, Lance Dunbar. The 2012 undrafted free agent was a healthy scratch in San Diego along with the stars, so the Ravens game will be his first under Linehan as well.
“He has a really good way of finding what his players do well and highlighting them and featuring them and also attacking maybe some matchups,” coach Jason Garrett said. “We’ve always tried to do that. The transition has been really smooth for us.”
It will be Kubiak’s second game with running back Ray Rice, who had three carries for 17 yards against San Francisco. Rice will miss the first two games of the regular season after being suspended following his arrest for domestic violence.
“John and I talked about what he wanted to be on the offensive side of the ball, but we haven’t spent any time talking about what happened last year,” Kubiak said. “Everybody has bought into what we’re doing. We have to go take another step this week.”
Linebacker Rolando McClain is expected to make his Dallas debut against the Ravens after Baltimore traded him for a late-round pick before training camp. The Cowboys are trying to replace middle linebacker Sean Lee, who tore a knee ligament in the offseason and is out for the year.
McClain never played for the Ravens, twice retiring after they picked him up when Oakland gave up on the former top 10 pick after three seasons.
“He just needs to play,” coach Jason Garrett said. “He needs to keep coming out here and practicing well and understand what we’re asking him to do from a defensive standpoint. Gain the trust of his teammates and coaches.”
Both defenses have work to do. While the Cowboys struggled to stop the Chargers, the Ravens let the 49ers march to a field goal on Colin Kaepernick’s only drive. Because of injuries, Baltimore’s focus is on the defensive line and secondary.
“We have to start faster now,” defensive coordinator Dean Pees said. “I think we were a little hyped up because there were a couple times where we ran up field on a running play and the ball gashed us.”
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