During training camp last season many of us were debating the wisdom of putting Dustin Vaughan on the 53-man roster versus assigning him to the practice squad. The Dallas front office ultimately decided that the undrafted rookie had shown enough during his initial training camp that they were not willing to risk exposing him to the waiver wire so they kept him on the 53-man roster all season. Vaughan was only on the game day roster for one game, but the exposure he received by being on the 53 has helped the passer progress in his development. That experience includes learning things like the difference in prepping for a home, as opposed to a road game, and the insights he gained by being a part of the in-game adjustment process. He is more prepared for the world of professional football that he was at this time last year.
Last year was about making the team, but this time around Vaughan is trying to earn a role on Sunday afternoons. His progress has impressed the Dallas Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett.
"I think he's gotten a lot better. I don't think there's any question about that. It's a huge jump for anybody. I told our team the other day, you could be a four-time All-American, a four-time All-SEC and walk in here and it's a huge jump. It's a huge transition for a rookie to come into the National Football League. And then you kind of go even further when you're talking about guys going from smaller-school situations and then particularly at that position. So, a long way to go for him right at the outset but he's worked very hard. It's important to him. He wants to be a great player." - Jason Garrett
Once cause for concern with Vaughan is that he needs to improve his awareness and mobility in the pocket. In limited action during the last preseason, Dustin took five sacks. He needs to learn to feel when the pressure is closing in on him and throw the ball away. Improving his mobility will also help him elude the pass rush as will an opportunity to play behind the first-team offensive line. He cannot continue to take sacks at the rate he did during 2014.
Another area where Vaughan can improve himself is in developing consistent mechanics. A close review of his appearances last season will show that Dustin does not throw the ball the same way each time. This is something that the Dallas coaching staff has worked hard to improve. Once he gets into a routine of throwing the pigskin the way that quarterbacks coach Wade Wilson wants him to, Dustin will not only gain confidence in himself but he will also gain the confidence of his fellow Cowboys.
Confidence is something that Jason Garrett is also trying to teach Vaughan to project in the huddle. Garrett wants his young quarterback to develop as a leader.
"He encouraged me to go out and have a smile on my face, to have fun, but to be a leader, to be a communicator on the field and to be confident in what I say and what I do on the field, whether it's wrong or right. Be confident, get everybody on the same page. He's really big about that. He's really helped me kind of develop into that quarterback that I'm still trying to develop into.
"It's more demonstrative, more getting everybody in the huddle like they're supposed to be in the huddle, and looking for perfection. Whether you meet it or not, it's looking for that perfection." - Dustin Vaughan
In addition to his work in practice, the quarterback is taking a route that his current mentor, Tony Romo, and his head coach both took as reserve quarterbacks in Dallas. He is putting in extra hours working with the Cowboys receivers outside of organized practices. Getting the extra work in will only make Vaughan better. Perfect practice makes perfect, and Vaughan knows that the effort will make him better. So does his coach.
"He needs to play. He needs to play at practice and play in preseason games. That's going to make his biggest growth. But he's certainly a different player than he was a year ago."
Vaughan has made great strides according to most accounts. The question he will try to answer in Oxnard is 'Has he developed enough to allow the Cowboys to move on from Brandon Weeden?' The answer will be answered in how well Dustin can perform in the four preseason games.