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?
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.
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.
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.