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What a rush! Cooper Rush’s preseason performance ends any debate on backup QB

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Cooper Rush has gone from undrafted camp arm to a potential backup for Dak Prescott.

NFL: Indianapolis Colts at Dallas Cowboys Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

In an offseason full of other distractions, who cares about the Cowboys seemingly discovering another undrafted gem? Well, the answer should be everyone.

When it comes to undrafted free agents, it’s arguable that nobody has done it better than the Dallas Cowboys. To count the successes they’ve had, you have to start way back when.

How about Cliff Harris or Drew Pearson? Everson Walls, Bill Bates, and Mark Tuneii had pretty good careers, too. The list goes on with Barry Church, Miles Austin, and of course, perhaps the best undrafted Cowboy of all-time, Tony Romo. Well, with Cooper Rush, the Cowboys just may have found another undrafted quarterback that can be of use to them. Let’s just revisit how we got here with Cooper Rush and where it all began for the Michigan-native.

Rush attended Lansing Catholic High School, where he started two-years from 2010-2011. Not only was he pretty good but he also led his team to back-to-back undefeated regular seasons and they were the state runner-ups in 2011. He’s a Michigan high school legend, holding the records for most touchdowns in a quarter (5), half (7), game (8), and season (48). Rush finished high school with 7,248 passing yards, 80 touchdown passes, 27 rushing touchdowns and almost 1,500 rushing yards.

Despite all his accolades, Rush was considered three-star recruit and he committed to Central Michigan in early 2011. Cooper Rush redshirted his freshman year and won the team’s Scout Team Player of the Year. In 2013, he started the final 10 games of the season, where he had over 2,300 passing yards, 15 touchdowns, and 15 interceptions. He was able to win the CMU Offensive Player of the Year as well as get selected to the All-MAC Academic team.

What was interesting about his first-year as a starter is how his performances were similar to what we’ve seen him do this preseason. In his first appearance against New Hampshire, he came in during the second quarter, Rush went on to complete 19 of 32 passes for 326 yards, three touchdowns, and zero picks. In that game, Rush also tossed the second-longest pass in Chippewas’ history, a 97-yarder in the fourth-quarter to get the victory. He led an upset road win over Ohio with another three-touchdown performance with his last coming with only 22 seconds left.

Rush would start every game for Central Michigan over the next three years and had them Bowl-eligible all three seasons. He had a record-setting performance in the 2014 Bahamas Bowl, where he connected on 28 of 45 passes, and seven touchdowns (NCAA Bowl record). Rush’s 42-points and 519 yards of offense were also NCAA Bowl records.

Though Cooper Rush had a really good collegiate career, he wasn’t considered a draftable player this year due to concerns about arm strength. Interestingly enough, his pro-comparison was Kellen Moore, another below-average arm strength quarterback who’s currently a Cowboy. Rush is not the guy that will wow you in any passing contests. There’s no doubt a lot of plays he made in the MAC would have been mistakes in bigger conferences. If he’s got sub-par arm strength, very little drive power on his passes, or a “frumpy body” as Lance Zierlein said, what’s the difference between he and Kellen Moore? Why is one succeeding while the other is the exact opposite?

How is it that Cooper Rush has completed 74.5% of his passes, 398 passing yards, six touchdowns (leads preseason), zero interceptions, and has three wins? If he and Moore have similar deficiencies and attributes, why is Rush, a rookie, completely owning this competition?

After rewatching these preseason games, a few things really stood out about Cooper Rush and how he manages his limitations.

Similar to Kellen Moore, Rush is a cerebral quarterback, his best weapon is his brain. Seeing as how he was a regular scholar of the All-MAC Academic team, that had to be the first thing that Jason Garrett, an Ivy-Leaguer, would just be tickled by. He also spent five years in a pro-style college offense. The first difference that was noticeable is that Rush is 6’3, where Moore is barely six-feet. That translates into why Rush has better ability in terms of reading the entire field.

Rush also processes everything a lot quicker than Moore, which is something that stood out in scouting reports about him. Zierlein said that Rush processes quicker than any quarterback he had studied in the past five years, also that his anticipation and accuracy made up for the lack of velocity.

When Rush is under center, you see all of his strengths play out but he does a good job of minimizing his deficiencies. Rush is a quick-passer just like Moore but he has superior timing on his throws. He can lead his receivers as we’ve seen with some of his deep passes. It was noticeable this past week on a dump off to Ronnie Hillman. Rush threw it perfectly in front of the receiver, allowing Hillman to catch it on the run and score.

Rush doesn’t seem to make the receivers work as hard as Kellen Moore does. Another huge victory for Rush is that he’s got better pocket awareness. He’s not ever going to be as athletic as Prescott but he still senses pressure well enough to step up and get the ball out. He always keeps his eyes downfield with enough movement in the pocket to finish the play with accuracy. Zierlein also pointed out something that you see with Rush, dumping the ball off is his last resort. Rush really makes incredible effort to push the ball down the field with an average of 9.5 yards per pass over the last three preseason games. That’s not something that you see very often from Moore, who will take shots deep but doesn’t strike nearly as often.

This offseason started off with some criticism about the lack of capable quarterbacks behind Dak Prescott. The Cowboys love Kellen Moore’s abilities to help design the game plans on offense. They love that Moore is well-versed in all of Scott Linehan’s terminology. Cooper Rush wasn’t supposed to be much competition for Moore but you can’t deny that he’s made it a competition. The fact that Rush was the first guy off the bench in the dress rehearsal shows the Cowboys’ aren’t blindly committed to Moore as the primary backup.

The intent of this piece is not to anoint Cooper Rush as the next Cowboys’ Pro Bowler. It’s just one of the few instances where a guy has come in and made the most of his opportunities. It’s not often the owner flat-out says that someone has earned a roster spot as Jerry Jones did for him. Though they are certain to carry three quarterbacks, we’ve seen enough to know that Cooper Rush has unequivocally earned the right to be Prescott’s primary backup.