So far, most of the news coming out of Oxnard has been very good for fans of the Dallas Cowboys. Tony Romo looks to be picking up pretty much where he left off last season. Dez Bryant is doing amazing things every day. The defense looks to have considerably more talent than it has had in years. The offensive line is working on living up to its reputation, even as the members of that group refuse to even discuss being one of the best in the league. Outside of the still uncertain situation at running back, almost all the problems facing the team appear to have solutions available.
But one troubling thing is starting to surface in various reports from camp. The backup quarterbacks are not looking very good.
When you have a legitimate franchise quarterback like Romo, you never want to see the backups having to play a significant role during the season. Still, you also have to have a plan for any contingency, no matter how distasteful. And the Cowboys have been living on borrowed time. Since Romo became the starter, they have not had much to fall back on when he has been hurt. Only Jon Kitna came in and managed to do much when called on back in 2010. Kyle Orton turned out to be something of a head case. Brandon Weeden was a major disappointment in his one chance to help the team last year. And please don't even talk about Stephen McGee.
Things so far have not looked very promising for any of the backups on the roster, as rabblerousr observed in his excellent first recap of Wednesday's practice. Romo had the day off, and it could have been a chance for the backups to show something. But that is not what happened.
With Number Nine of the sidelines, the other quarterbacks move up one unit in rank. Brandon Weeden, working with the first team, struggled. Dustin Vaughan, promoted to second team, struggled. Jameil Showers, now the third team signal caller...you guessed, it: struggled. In the red zone work, for example, the first two units failed to gain so much as a first down; both settled for Dan Bailey field goals (on a day when the team was resting Bailey's leg, so field goals equated to snaps to the holder).
Just a few days ago, our DannyPhantom was speculating that this might be the year Vaughan made a move to become the primary backup. Now, all we see are reports that seem to include that "struggle" word in them. This is something that affects the team in other ways than just trying to find a capable fill-in for Romo. It also impacts the down-roster players trying to make the team. It is hard for receivers trying to become the fifth wideout to show the coaches what they can do when all they see are uncatchable balls and check-downs. It doesn't do the defenders any favors either. The team needs a credible job from the passer when the second and third strings are on the field in practice or a preseason game.
Weeden may simply not be the answer as the primary backup, despite the praise he was getting before camp for how much he had improved. There is not a ready pool of serviceable backups QBs out there for the team to find someone, and the later it gets, the harder that is. That is one reason why so many of us were hoping Vaughan could take that next step, and why it is so disheartening to not see him doing it.
There was one note from Babe Laufenberg as to what may be going on with him.
I have been saying all along he has a chance to be something other than who people thought he was. I tweeted that he had not looked sharp the first 3 days of camp. Told him that was what I was seeing after yesterday's practice (which he actually threw the ball well.) He said he did not pick up a ball for a month before camp because his arm got so fatigued during camp last year. So he started slowly, but let's hope the curve continues trending up.
There is still time to turn things around, but that shrinks with every passing day. We all fervently hope that the season will not turn on the Cowboys having to win a game or two while Romo is unavailable, but the coaches have to take all scenarios into account. If the backups, or at least one of them, do not get things together, there will be a lingering concern about this. And there is no quick fix for this. Dallas has to hope this can be solved from within.