Roulette-Wheel Approach To Finding Backup QB Not Paying Dividends So Far In Camp For Cowboys
Another year and another spin of the backup quarterback wheel for the Dallas Cowboys. And, just as is the case with roulette, the odds appear to be stacked against finding a good one.
Through nearly two weeks of practices at Cowboys training camp in sunny Oxnard, Tony Romo is playing just the way you would expect of a four-time Pro Bowler. That’s the good news.
The bad news is what’s transpiring beneath him on the depth chart. There is, unofficially, a quarterback competition under way at camp based primarily on the concept of inefficiency. For all of the positives coming from the right arm of the starting quarterback, there is an equal amount of red flags coming from the performances of backups Brandon Weeden, Dustin Vaughan, and Jameill Showers.
It seems a long time since the days when Kyle Orton sat in Romo’s shadow. Too long, in fact.
When the Cowboys opted to not use a draft-pick on a quarterback this past May, it seemed to suggest that they were prepared to use the 2015 season to further develop Weeden and Vaughn. Early camp happenings might make them consider scrapping that plan completely.
Weeden, the fourth-year player out of Oklahoma State who spent the first two years of his career in Cleveland, spent all spring telling the media how much more comfortable he felt in Scott Linehan’s offense going into his second season with the Cowboys. A less-than-impressive showing thus far in camp tends to suggest Weeden was mistaken, if not delusional. Even when playing with the No. 1 offensive unit, Weeden has looked average at best, and has tended to struggle with the accuracy of his downfield throws.
Weeden can take comfort in the fact that he has 21 NFL starts under his belt and has not appeared to regress, which is more than Dustin Vaughan can say for himself. The Cowboys were so intrigued with the West Texas A&M product before last season that they offered the 6-5, 235-pound gun-slinger a three-year contract, and even kept him on the 53-man roster for the entire 2014 campaign.
But what God gave him in stature and arm-strength, he deducted in athleticism. Though not as statuesque as, say, Chad Hutchinson, Vaughan is every bit of a pocket-passer, as evidenced by his performance last August when he was sacked five times.
Vaughan’s biggest challenge right now in camp though, according to head coach Jason Garrett, has been his ability to process information before and during the play. “Sometimes with young quarterbacks, you literally see smoke coming out of their ears, their mind’s working so hard,” observed Garrett.
It’s something Vaughan needs to overcome if he wants to avoid the same fate as Drew Henson and Stephen McGee, a pair of one-time Cowboy backups who struggled to handle the many responsibilities of the position, and were eventually released. And if he wants to avoid being labeled the biggest disappointment of camp.
“He just hasn’t looked as sharp as you want him to be after a year with the team,” admitted David Helman of DallasCowboys.com.
What is sharp is the intrigue surrounding the play of Jameill Showers. A rookie free-agent pickup out of UTEP, Showers has done enough in camp to earn snaps ahead of Vaughn at the team’s Blue-White scrimmage on Sunday, though Garrett afterwards stopped short of calling it a promotion.
More than just a quarterback, the Cowboys have also worked out the fleet-footed Showers on the punt and kick coverage teams. “He’s just a really good athlete, and we’re looking for ways to show us he belongs on this team,” said Garrett.
The compelling storyline in the case of Showers is what would happen in the event that he proved himself to be at least Vaughan’s equal as a passer coming out of preseason play. Does Garrett count Showers’ spot as a special teams player and keep Vaughan too, or does he take Showers’ multiple abilities and then try to fill a need with another player elsewhere?
Considering the fact that the Cowboys are still searching for a replacement for departed return-man Dwayne Harris, the latter of the two choices remains a distinct possibility. Remember, Harris returned both punts and kickoffs.
At this date in camp, the Cowboys have yet to watch anyone stand out in either phase, excepting Cole Beasley, whom the team would prefer to avoid having to return punts regularly.
Like all of the football-loving world, Garrett and his staff will be watching closely this preseason to see more clearly the quality of players who are striving to fill the depth chart behind Romo. He can only hope that this is one situation when practice habits don’t spill over into game conditions. Otherwise, the Cowboys may have to take another spin on a wheel which has done them but little good.