I'll never forget the Cowboys-Raiders preseason game in 2004. Not only did I score seats in the famous "Black Hole," thanks to friend with season tickets, but I had the distinct pleasure to watch an obscure third-string quarterback from a Division III directional school come into the game and lead the Cowboys on a 59-yard, 17-play drive culminated by a gutsy 1-yard QB sneak with six seconds left to lead Dallas to a 21-20 victory. At the time, I remember thinking to myself, "I like this kid; he's got moxie." You might have heard of him - fellow by the name of Tony Romo.
Since then, of course, the Romo legend has grown, and owner Jerry Jones has publicly (and drunkenly) proclaimed the UDFA Pro Bowler "a miracle." Although we constantly question Jerry's judgment, he's certainly right about that; finding a high-quality starting quarterback in the collegiate bargain bin is nothing short of miraculous. Its risky business--but, apparently, the business that Jones prefers: he's gone on record saying that the cost for first-round signal-callers is too great, given the bust rate at the position. And, now, as the pre-draft invitee roster swells, the three quarterbacks that dot it are not BCS conference stand-outs. Rather, the Cowboys braintrust is taking a longer look at three guys with Romo-esque profiles: Central Arkansas's Nathan Dick; Tulsa's G. J. Kinne; and Tarleton State's Nick Stephens. Might they be banking on another miracle?
Before you dismiss this cadre of small-school QBs as training camp fodder, consider that all three were highly recruited and spent time taking snaps at BCS schools. Dick started two games at Arkansas for Bobby Petrino as a redshirt freshman - but then Ryan Mallet transferred in from Michigan, and Dick's future was put in jeopardy. He was granted a release, but not to a rival Division I school, so he chose tiny Central Arkansas where, as a senior, he completed 258 passes in 402 attempts, for 3275 yards (and a sweet 8.1 YPA), notching 32 TDs against only 9 picks. He's a good-sized QB (6’3.5", 214), with a strong arm, who finished his UCA career second in passing attempts (808) and completions (514), third in passing yards (5,943) and fourth in touchdown passes (44).
Read about Stephens and Kinne after the jump...
Stephens boasts a similar profile. The 6'4", 230 pounder began his college career at Tennessee, where he backed up Eric Ainge as a redshirt freshman, and then started six games in 2008, splitting time with Jonathan Compton. Stephens backed up Compton in 2009, under new Vols coach Lane Kiffin. Stephens enjoyed a good relationship with Kiffin but eventually transferred to Tarleton State when Kiffin suddenly up and left to go to USC. Little of this upheaval had to do with Stephens, who started his Tennessee career by throwing 106 consecutive passes without an interception, the best mark in the University's history. Stephens has NFL size and a legit NFL arm, although he struggles with footwork and accuracy. When he executes his drops cleanly and gets his feet underneath him, he can make accurate throws, with zip.
Similarly, Kinne transferred to Tulsa after redshirting at Texas in 2007. He sat out the 2008 season, then assumed the starting role in 2009 and has been the Golden Hurricanes starter ever since. The knock on Kinne is that he doesn't have NFL-ready tools. He's only 6’1", although he goes about 230, and doesn't throw with Stephens' power. That said, he's the most accomplished quarterback of the three. Kinne was the 2010 Conference USA Offensive Player of the Year after leading the league in total offense with 4,111 yards. He threw for 3,650 yards and 31 touchdowns and 10 interceptions on 275-of-460 passing (59.8 percent), and led Tulsa in rushing with 561 yards and seven TDs on 158 carries.
Guys like Kinne have certainly achieved NFL success in the past. He has a good, if not great, arm, and can make most of the throws, with good short to intermediate accuracy. Perhaps more importantly (and more Romo-like), he boasts a very quick throwing motion; Kinne gets the ball out in a hurry and doesn't give defenders much time to react to his throws. Wes Bunting says of Kinne that he "has a little Jeff Garcia/Bruce Gradkowski to his game. He will fall on draft day because of his size," Bunting cautions, "but is your typical gritty QB prospect who is the son of a coach and in my view will find a way to make a roster and potentially fight for playing time down the line."
And the kid is mentally tough - a trait he likely gets from his father. In April, 2005, Gary Joe Kinne, the coach at Canton (TX) High School, was shot in the stomach by the disgruntled parent of one of his players. Police on the scene told the younger Kinne that his father had died. As it turned out, he was still alive and, after more than three months in the hospital and three surgeries, returned to the sidelines, leading Canton to a 12-2 record. He was named the Adams USA National Coach of the Year for his work, and his courage.
All three of these QBs will need sustained mental toughness to make an NFL squad. But, as Jason Garrett acknowledged recently, he admires players, like Romo, who have had to earn everything they've got through diligence and effort. Certainly, that is the future trajectory of all three of these guys; if they can stick on an NFL roster, they will, by definition, be "RKGs." I know I'll be rooting for them; here's hoping that one appears on the Cowboys' roster in 2013. God knows we could use another miracle.