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Cowboys Backup QB Debate Taking Over Preseason

Jess Haynie

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Cowboys Backup QB Situation

We went into this preseason with Rico Gathers, Jaylon Smith, and the big names from our 2017 rookie class at the forefront of our minds. A few weeks later, the rising debate at backup quarterback between veteran Kellen Moore and undrafted rookie Cooper Rush has taken over the collective consciousness of Cowboys Nation.

You have seen and will continue to see opposing viewpoints. Some believe that no rookie, let alone an undrafted one who played in the MAC, could be ready for the speed and complexity of NFL football. Rush won’t be getting first-team reps in practice or preseason, so could he really take on the responsibility of replacing Dak Prescott when the game’s elite players, and most intense situations, are in front of him?

On the other hand, we’ve seen Kellen Moore’s work. We saw his struggles in 2015 and we’ve seen his issues in these last two preseason games. He’s getting many of the same vanilla defenses and low-end defensive talent that Rush is, so why isn’t his experience shining through? What good is a veteran backup who can’t even outperform an undrafted rookie?

Kellen Moore

QB Kellen Moore

We’ve all heard the same old lines about Kellen Moore, about how he’s such a great asset in the quarterback room and to the offensive coordinator. It’s the go-to defense for any Moore supporter; Kellen’s value is more in game preparation than what he can do on the field. He’s like an extra coach for Dak Prescott or whoever the starter is.

That’s really neat and all, but doesn’t Dak have enough coaches? He has Wade Wilson and Scott Linehan, two of the most experienced assistants out there. His head coach was a career backup quarterback. And if that’s not enough, Dak himself is noted for his devotion to study and perfecting his craft.

It’s great that Kellen Moore can contribute to all of this, but is that really more important than how he plays? Is he influencing wins and losses from the sideline as much as if he actually has to come into a game, or especially take over for an extended stretch due to injury? Does he really have the physical ability to play NFL football?

Moore’s lack of arm strength is well known, but that’s not just about being able to throw it deep. Passing windows are often tight and a quarterback needs to be able to zip the ball in there with accuracy. Kellen can’t throw with zip, and if he tries that’s going to affect accuracy. Anyone who’s played golf knows that the more power you try to force into your swing, the more you open yourself up for a bad hit. It’s no different for shooting a basketball, swinging a bat, or throwing a football.

Cooper Rush

QB Cooper Rush

That isn’t to say Cooper Rush is out there slinging it like John Elway. A lack of arm strength was actually noted in his pre-draft scouting reports. But the proof is on the tape; Rush’s passes simply look better and more professional grade than Moore’s. On average, he will be in a better position to complete throws because of basic biological advantages. He’s also three inches taller, and being able to see over your offensive linemen is never a bad thing.

The irony of this is that Rush was compared to Kellen Moore in his scouting report, prior to ever becoming a Cowboy. He got credit for the same things that Moore does when it comes to the mental side of the game. Essentially, he may be a taller, stronger version of Moore.

Of course, it will take time for Cooper Rush to catch up to Moore when it comes to experience and the off-field contributions. But if he has that potential and the clear physical superiority, do you really want to discard that asset? Do you even want to risk it on the practice squad?

The Cowboys have tried that in the past with promising preseason performers like Matt Moore and Alex Tanney. Moore didn’t even make it past waivers in 2007, getting claimed by the Panthers after final cuts. Tanney got signed off the 2013 practice squad a few months into the season.

Dak Prescott, Kellen Moore, Wade Wilson

Cooper Rush, Kellen Moore, and Dak Prescott with QB Coach Wade Wilson. (Tom Fox/The Dallas Morning News)

It doesn’t happen often in sports or in life, but circumstances may allow the Cowboys to actually have their cake and eat it too. As was covered a few days ago by K.D. Drummond, Kellen Moore is still eligible for the practice squad. This surprising reality, given his years in the league, opens up the possibility to secure Cooper Rush with a roster spot, retain Moore’s services with the off-field help, and keep a roster spot open for other positions. As Michael Scott would tell you, that’s a “Win-Win-Win” scenario.

Of course, that scenario is contingent on Moore accepting the job. It may sound improbable that he’d be willing to take the demotion and drop to the practice squad, but keep in mind that he was a free agent last March and ultimately took a one-year, $775k contract to come back to Dallas.  Kellen was on the open market for two weeks and still took that nothing deal to remain a Cowboy, which probably tells you how much interest there was in him.

Many have said that Moore’s future is in coaching, and accepting this arrangement could be the first step to securing long-term employment with the Cowboys. Wade Wilson is 58-years-old and perhaps Kellen could start a paid internship now to eventually become the new quarterbacks coach.

Even if the Cowboys keep both guys on the 53-man roster, there’s still the matter of who is the primary backup. Cooper Rush came in before Kellen Moore in Monday’s practice and is sharing second-team work. Dallas is clearly assessing their options now, which many have said would never happen given Moore’s experience edge and relationship with Scott Linehan.

Coaches are like fans when it comes to their principles, priorities, and preconceived notions. Many don’t budge easily. Cooper Rush was going to have to be pretty damn impressive to cause a shift and it looks like that’s exactly what he’s done. It’s a pleasant surprise for the 2017 preseason, and perhaps a critical development at some point later this year.

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Cowboys fan since 1992, blogger since 2011. Bringing you the objectivity of an outside perspective with the passion of a die-hard fan. I love to talk to my readers, so please comment on any article and I'll be sure to respond!

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6 Comments
  • Daniel Helms

    Rush has not had one snap against a 2nd string defense. This is massive issue. You can’t compare the production. If you are looking at yardage Moore is blasting Rush by more than 100 yards. The defenses Rush faces wouldn’t be able to stop anything Moore throws. Rush has already thrown Int and Moore still has looked better in practice when playing at the same level.

    • Jess Haynie

      Way to cherry pick those stats, Daniel. Unfortunately, you didn’t even get that right. It was Kellen who threw the interception, not Cooper. As for Moore “blasting” Rush in yardage, he’s thrown the ball 17 more times. Cooper actually has the higher YPA.

      Also, you forgot these stats. I can’t imagine why:

      TOUCHDOWNS – Rush 4, Moore 1
      COMPLETION % – Rush 68.4%, Moore 54.5%
      PASSER RATING – Rush 125.2, Moore 75.0

      • Matthew Harrell

        Haha wow. I wonder if that was Babe Laughenberg posting under a pseudonym. He is the only bone head arguing for Moore over Rush

  • georgemachock

    The same initial arguments were used against Dak. Cooper is a QB and has an arm that your 2nd string needs for their development. If Moore had performed all these years at a better level there’d be no question. The fact that he hasn’t says it all. He may be a great guy but, this is a business and with injuries the way they are in the NFL, a lot of 2nd stringers need to be max ready.

  • Randy Martin

    Lest we forget, one Dak Prescott, with not a shred of NFL experience was thrust into the limelight last year and proceeded to have arguably the best rookie season for a QB in NFL History. Now I’m not suggesting we have another Dak in Cooper Rush but watch him in the game. He stands poised, has pocket presence, delivers the ball on target, and commands the huddle. He will likely start this game against Oakland, unless Dak runs a series and we will all see what he can do. We know what Moore can do and it scares us all!

  • Russ_Te

    I still think being out 1.5 years is showing up for Moore. Part of his game is getting out of the pocket and that looks hampered to me because of the leg recovery. Whether he gets more mobile, no real way to know.

    Old-days Bengals NT Tim Krumrie suffered a fractured leg in that Super Bowl they made it to with Esiason at QB. He came back, but never the same player. Joe Thiesman, done in by it.

    Dak should play the 1st half this week with the starters. That gives Moore 1 quarter and Rush 1 quarter (unless they decide that Rush earned both quarters).

    Then Dak sits and again Moore and Rush are likely to split halves in the last PS game. So Moore has 3 quarters left in this preseason. I think he will play better not worse, and remain the #2 QB.

Dallas Cowboys

Cowboys Losing Linebackers Coach Matt Eberflus to Colts

Jess Haynie

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Matt Eberflus, Sean Lee

Multiple sources are reporting Matt Eberflus — who has been the linebackers coach and passing game coordinator for the Dallas Cowboys — will leave to join the Indianapolis Colts as the new defensive coordinator. Eberflus has been with Dallas since 2011, having joined Rob Ryan’s staff when Ryan become the coordinator for the Cowboys’ defense.

He has been the linebackers coach during his entire Dallas tenure and was also named passing game coordinator in 2016.

Tom Pelissero on Twitter

With Josh McDaniels ticketed for the #Colts, former #Cowboys assistant Matt Eberflus is expected to come along as defensive coordinator, I’m told. Lot of parts falling in place now.

If not the Colts, some thought Matt Eberflus might end up replacing Matt Patricia as the defensive coordinator in New England. Either way, it does not appear Dallas could have kept him around while Rod Marinelli remains in his current position.

Eberflus’ work in Dallas speaks for itself, and primarily through LB Sean Lee.

He has been Lee’s position coach for all but his rookie season, and in that time Lee has been one of the top defensive players in all of football.

Beyond Lee, Eberflus has also been able to get quality play out of mid-round picks like Anthony Hitchens and Damien Wilson. We also saw Jaylon Smith make significant progress this season.

Given Matt Eberflus has never worked with Josh McDaniels before, the fact he was on the Colts’ radar says a lot.

Make no mistake; the Cowboys lost a good one here.

Don’t panic, however. Coach Marinelli has cast a very wide net during his time in the NFL and there are a lot of potential guys, some with plenty of experience, that Dallas might look to.

It’s entirely possible that Eberflus’ replacement will be someone who Marinelli spends 2018 grooming to take over as the defensive coordinator.

Still, of all the coaching changes so far for Dallas, this one hurts most.

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Dallas Cowboys

Cowboys Hire Longtime Bengals OL Coach Paul Alexander

Kevin Brady

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Cowboys Hire Longtime Bengals OL Coach Paul Alexander

Thus far the 2018 offseason has brought a plethora of change to the Dallas Cowboys coaching staff, especially on the offensive side of the ball. Now it is being reported the Cowboys have hired a brand new offensive line coach, former Cincinnati Bengals’ Offensive Line Coach Paul Alexander.

Alex Marvez on Twitter

Source tells @sportingnews that Paul Alexander hired as new @dallascowboys offensive line coach

Alexander coached with the Bengals for over 20 years, and replaces the same man in Dallas who replaces him in Cincinnati, Frank Pollack. Alexander has also been the Bengals assistant head coach since 2003.

The Cowboys recently lost an assistant head coach when Special Teams Coordinator Rich Bisaccia left for Jon Gruden’s Oakland Raiders.

Per usual, the hire has been met with mixed reactions from Cowboys Nation.

Joey Ickes on Twitter

Since 2003, CIN has had only one season where they finished top-10 in Yards per attempt on the ground… They’ve been bottom-5 in the league 5 times in that span… That’s the OL Coach DAL just hired.

The hiring of an offensive line coach who’s rushing attack finished bottom five in the league in rushing yards per attempt five times since 2003 doesn’t look too great on paper. He will also teach with different techniques and styles than previous Cowboys OL coaches, which could potentially set back the offensive line early in the season.

Plus, respected Bengals’ writer Joe Goodberry did not exactly love the hire for the Cowboys.

Goodberry on Twitter

Pretty bad https://t.co/fysjZqCQ6l

Regardless, this is still a very talented offensive line and one which should lead an effective ground attack based on their talent alone. 2017 proved further that coaching matters a lot in the NFL however, and the wrong hire could set back even the most talented of units.

We will just have to wait and see how this 2018 season ends up playing out.

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Mike Solari, Paul Alexander Candidates for Cowboys Vacant OL Coaching Job

Sean Martin

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Mike Solari, Paul Alexander Candidates For Cowboys Vacant OL Coach Job 1

By keeping all three top coaches (Jason Garrett, Scott Linehan, and Rod Marinelli) in place for 2018, there isn’t a Dallas Cowboys coaching hire that feels like they “must” get it right to contend next season. This is how it should be.

Producing nine wins, despite missing key players throughout the season, the Cowboys are changing things up at the position coach level to hopefully introduce new ideas and give the talent on this team a better chance at sustained success.

One coaching vacancy that needs to be filled by the right guy above any else is on the offensive line, where things haven’t been the same since the great Bill Callahan departed.

Frank Pollack took his place, and now finds himself with the Cincinnati Bengals after not being retained by Dallas this offseason.

Mike Solari, Paul Alexander Candidates For Cowboys Vacant OL Coach Job

Tom Cable (Stephen Brashear / Getty Images)

The first name that was thrown around in consideration for the Cowboys job was Tom Cable, which sent a panic throughout Cowboys Nation before Cable decided to sign with John Gruden and the Raiders.

Cable had been coaching the Seahawks’ OL, a position that franchise has not valued in some time, and struggled to develop any talent in protection of their franchise QB Russell Wilson.

Now, two new names have emerged as candidates to coach the likes of two-time 1st Team All-Pro LT Tyron Smith, 1st Team All-Pro C Travis Frederick, and two-time 1st Team All-Pro RG Zack Martin.

Mike Solari and Paul Alexander

Paul Alexander has already met with the Dallas Cowboys, looking for work after 23 seasons with the Bengals. During this time, Alexander served as Marvin Lewis’ assistant head coach, in addition to his duties as their OL coach.

Judging on reactions out of Cincinnati to Alexander’s departure, the Bengals offensive line regressed under him in 2017, warranting change from a franchise that is as reluctant as any to move on from coaches.

Goodberry on Twitter

Paul Alexander better be gone

Most recently, Mike Solari has served as the offensive line coach for the New York Giants — far from a renowned unit around the NFL lately. He does have previous experience with the Cowboys, having served as an assistant OL and special teams coach here from 1987-88.

From 2006-07, Solari did reach the rank of offensive coordinator with the Kansas City Chiefs, which shows the level of respect that the 30-year NFL coaching veteran has earned.

He will be the Dallas Cowboys’ next interview for their open OL coach position.

Cowboys at Raiders: La'el Collins Faces Toughest Test Yet In Khalil Mack 1

Dallas Cowboys RT La’el Collins, RG Zack Martin

Depth at tackle, a long-term answer at left guard, and an extension for Zack Martin are among the questions facing the Cowboys offensive line moving forward. Whoever is in charge of keeping this unit up to standard in 2018 though, may hold the keys to getting the entirety of the Cowboys’ program back on track.

Whether it’s Alexander, Solari, or another outside candidate yet to emerge, Inside The Star will keep you updated on the Cowboys’ ongoing coaching search.

Tell us what you think about “Mike Solari, Paul Alexander Candidates for Cowboys Vacant OL Coaching Job” in the comments below. You can also email me at Sean.Martin@InsideTheStar.com, or Tweet to me at @SeanMartinNFL!

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