The Dallas Cowboys have previously started a season with two quarterbacks on the active roster and the day is approaching it feels like they may go with one.
To go with another, at this juncture, feels like a wasted roster spot.
“We’re not gonna have one quarterback,” Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said. “Have to have two.”
In the words of Mr. Taggart from the classic ‘Blazing Saddles:’ “I am depressed.”
When Dak Prescott took every snap in the 2018 regular season finale, a meaningless game against the Giants in New York, that told you everything you need to know about what they think about his backups.
The same backups who are in camp currently.
“Ultimately you want a guy who can go in the game and function like the starter,” Garrett said. “It’s a challenging standard to have but that’s always what you strive for. Can you keep the engine going? Can you fly the plane?”
Garrett’s behaviors suggest he thinks his backups can’t get the plane out of the gate. The only other quarterback to attempt a pass for the Cowboys in ‘18 was Cole Beasley, who is a wide receiver.
The Cowboys planned the entire 2018 season on Dak remaining healthy, which he did, so why not just go all in with the program?
If he gets hurt, they believe they are going to lose anyway. Just let punter Chris Jones, or a wide receiver, play out the rest of the game. Flush the loss. Sign a veteran, maybe Vinny Testaverde can come back, and away you go.
No NFL team would ever do that, but the competition between Cooper Rush and Mike White to be The Dak Understudy is going how you might expect: Sideways.
Dak’s backup may actually not be on the roster.
The Cowboys prefer White win the job, but right now Rush is in the lead by a wide margin, even if his Cowboys’ plane is at a cruising altitude of 35 feet.
THE CASE FOR COOPER RUSH
Rush is entering his third NFL season, and has three games on his resume. He has three passes attempted, one of which was caught for two yards.
He has been a guy who looks better in games than in practice.
In the preseason opener on Saturday against San Francisco, Rush completed 16 of 26 passes for 142 yards with no touchdowns or picks. He replaced Dak on the second drive and played more than White.
Rush also led the Cowboys to two field goals, as drives stalled in the red zone, but his passes, footwork, and decision-making showed significant improvement.
“For myself, I feel a lot better going into these games. Understanding defenses, understanding our offense; just having another year under your belt really helps,” Rush said after the game.
Against the 49ers, he was more confident in running the offense. At one point, he made a nice play in side stepping a pair of defenders and didn’t complete a pass. The footwork was nifty, and he had the maturity to just throw it away.
He is better, but the question is if his plane can fly much higher.
THE CASE FOR MIKE WHITE
If you are going to go with the cheap, young guy as the backup, you want one who is smart, and is improving towards the higher ceiling.
The Cowboys like White, a fifth round pick from Western Kentucky in 2018. He is 6-foot-5, and has a live arm. He was also not good on Saturday night. He completed 9 of 20 passes, and was sacked three times.
“Mike White probably had the roughest outing of the group. Ball was on the ground a couple of times. Some decision-making probably not as clean as it needed to be, some technique stuff,” Garrett said. “A great learning experience for him too. He hasn’t played a lot of football.”
White had pressure issues along his line on Saturday, and he was simply not good.
“To be honest with you, not a lot of good,” White said on Monday. “Had some good, but starting off with a sack kinda frazzled everybody. We need to calm down and play every play like its own play.”
That may be the single hardest thing for a young QB who is competing for a job to achieve.
Cowboys’ quarterbacks coach Jon Kitna went through this exact same scenario when he was trying to earn a job in the league in 1997. Young guys like Rush or White put the weight of Saturn in their heads on every play because the outcome could be the difference between the job in the NFL, or trying to get a gig as a drug rep.
“It’s incredibly hard,” Kitna said. “You just get so far into your head and you have to be able to just move on.”
The Cowboys have not moved on from either Rush or White.
They want to see more to feel good about either being one heartbeat away from flying the Dallas Cowboys.
As the head coach says, you have to have two quarterbacks.