Former Tarleton quarterback gets chance with Cowboys

Former Tarleton State quarterback Nick Stephens didn’t give up on his dream after failing to stick with the Tennessee Titans out of training camp last summer. He continued to work out on on his own, lifting at a Lifetime Fitness and throwing to some ex-high school teammates.

He had a tryout with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last season, but it didn’t turn into anything.

So he waited.

Finally, his second chance came when the Dallas Cowboys signed him immediately after the 2012 season ended.

“It was a pretty big advantage to have signed when I did and get a jump on things,” Stephens said. “I feel like I’ve taken advantage of it up to this point. There is always so much more to learn, and it’s not just learning it, but it’s putting it together on the field.

“That’s probably the most difficult part. You can sit down and draw them a million times, but until you get on the field and look everyone in the eyes and repeat this long play to them, that’s when it gets ticked up a notch.”

The Flower Mound product is one of three quarterbacks who threw at the rookie minicamp last week, along with Dalton Williams and Aaron Corp. But Stephens is the only one who has been here long enough to get a star on his helmet.

“Nick’s made a lot of progress, and he’s a guy who physically has some tools,” Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said. “He’s a big kid. He’s athletic. He can throw the ball. We just want to see him keep growing in our offense, both understanding what we’re trying to do, but also physically doing things the way we want them done.

“These days are very valuable for a lot of guys, probably as valuable for him as anybody. He gets the chance to essentially run the team as the quarterback. He gets most of the quarterback reps. You see him in the huddle. You see him at the line of scrimmage. You see him translate some of that stuff we’re trying to emphasize to him and take it to the practice field.

“He’s made progress. He’s a better quarterback at 2 o’clock on Saturday than he was at 7:30 on Friday, and he’s doing things the right way, and he’s really making progress before our eyes. He, like all of them, has a long way to go, but he’s making some strides.”

Stephens started six games at the University of Tennessee in 2008, but he couldn’t hold the job and transferred to Tarleton in 2010. He finished his career with the Vols with 982 passing yards, five touchdowns and four interceptions. In 2011 at Tarleton, Stephens completed 56.4 percent of his passes for 3,005 yards and 20 touchdowns.

Stephens came for Dallas Day workouts at Valley Ranch in 2012, but with Stephen McGee as their third quarterback at the time, the Cowboys didn’t sign Stephens as a rookie free agent.

This time, he might have a better shot at least making the practice squad. The Cowboys kept only two quarterbacks on their 53-player roster last season, and, with the need for arms in training camp, Stephens is the team’s third quarterback at the moment.

“I don’t think anyone would go into a situation thinking it wasn’t a good opportunity,” Stephens said. “But at this point, all I’m doing is I’m just trying to be the best I can be. I’m trying to learn from Tony [Romo] and Kyle [Orton] and Coach [Wade] Wilson and Coach Garrett. They’re doing a phenomenal job teaching all of us. I’m just trying to put it all together.”

Roster moves

The Cowboys released former Texas A&M cornerback Dustin Harris on Friday, replacing him with free agent cornerback Malik “Fig” James from Langston.

Harris signed with the Cowboys as an undrafted free agent and participated in the team’s rookie minicamp.

James was a highly recruited high school prospect who originally signed with the University of Cincinnati but because of academics ended up going the junior college route.

He later spent time at Nevada but was dismissed after he was arrested for driving under the influence and careless driving in April 2012. He also had a November 2011 arrest at Nevada, charged with failure to obey police orders after failing to appear in court for a traffic ticket, according to published reports.

James ended up at Langston, an NAIA program, for his final year of eligibility. He played in four games last season, with six tackles and two interceptions before a season-ending injury against Wayland Baptist.

James, who is 5-11, 189 pounds, ran a 4.28 at his Pro Day. He had a tryout with the Houston Texans at their rookie minicamp, but the Texans didn't sign him.