- Associated Press - Thursday, July 24, 2014

OXNARD, Calif. (AP) - Tony Romo paused to add up how long it would take to coddle his surgically repaired back on the first day of training camp.

The final tally for the 34-year-old Dallas Cowboys quarterback was about four hours.

Romo isn’t worried about getting hit. He thinks he can play several more years, even joking Thursday that he’ll still be taking snaps when he’s 45.

But he knows he will have to alter his routine significantly after a herniated disk in a season-saving win at Washington led to back surgery that forced him out of a loss in a playoffs-or-bust finale against Philadelphia.

Romo said he spent about 2 1/2 hours before the first full practice on stretching and other work on his back, and he anticipated at least another hour or so before he went to bed.

The extra care probably won’t take that long all the time, but there will be at least a little something every day.

“That’s what I have to do and I have no problem doing that,” Romo said. “I love the game and it’s going to be something that’s easy to do to make sure that you’re always in good health.”

The Cowboys are easing into the practice routine to try to cut down on injuries, mostly hamstring problems that have plagued the team the past two years. Not only did they skip most of the offense-on-defense work in the first full practice, but Romo shut down the throwing long before the practice was over.

“It’s not to save the arm,” Romo said. “I am excited about going full go shortly. We’ll go up against the defense in a day or two and I am excited to be out there and rip them a little bit.”

And Romo is thinking about more than just being healthy. He’s going into his eighth full season as the starter talking like his prime is in his future rather than his past.

“I’ve said it before but I think over the course of the next four or five years, you’ll see the best version of me that I’ve had throughout my career,” Romo said. “That’s for a lot of different reasons. As my body continues to get healthier and healthier, it’s going to be better.”

The Cowboys will need a healthy Romo if they want to end a rare four-year playoff drought. The last three of those ended with losses to NFC East rivals when Dallas had a chance to make the playoffs.

And the most recent one ended with Romo watching from home just two days after back surgery.

Tight end Jason Witten, a high draft pick for Dallas the same year Romo signed as an undrafted free agent in 2003, never doubted Romo would be back in charge. And Romo’s favorite target isn’t thinking about his quarterback being one hard hit away from more back trouble.

“I am not curious to see. I know what the guy is made of,” Witten said. “I don’t think any of us are looking at this and saying we have to protect him because he’s fragile. He’s better than he’s been because he’s taken care of that.”

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