ARLINGTON, Texas – With one week left in preseason, has the Cowboys' backup quarterback competition gotten a little more interesting?
For the past month, Garrett Gilbert has consistently taken the majority of first-team reps while starter Dak Prescott incrementally works his way back from a shoulder strain. Gilbert started his third straight preseason game Saturday night at AT&T Stadium, but it was Cooper Rush – third on the depth chart throughout training camp – who delivered his best preseason performance yet in a 20-14 loss to the Houston Texans.
Taking over after two series, Rush completed 10 of 12 passes for two touchdowns and no interceptions in the final four drives of the first half – the only multi-touchdown game by a Cowboys quarterback this preseason – including a terrific 8-yard TD throw to Cedrick Wilson in the final two minutes before halftime.
"I thought Cooper had a nice quarter and a half of work," head coach Mike McCarthy said.
Gilbert's first two possessions didn't fare as well. On the opening drive, he fumbled away the ball on a strip-sack by Houston at his own 23-yard line, leading to a Texans touchdown drive. The second series ended with a punt just past midfield. His final stat line Saturday: 3-of-5 for 30 yards with one turnover.
Second-year quarterback Ben DiNucci played the entire second half, totaling a game-high 120 passing yards but also throwing three interceptions. Prescott did not play as the Cowboys continue to build up his volume of throws in preparation for the Sept. 9 season opener against Tampa Bay.
McCarthy said Saturday's plan was to give Rush "a little more reps" than Gilbert to balance out the reps from the first two preseason games.
This is Rush's fourth camp with the Cowboys in five career seasons, having spent the first part of last season with the Giants before rejoining the Cowboys last November. He's healthy again after dealing with back and shoulder injuries early in this year's camp, and he's got a sound grasp of offensive coordinator Kellen Moore's system.
"I've been around him for five years, pretty much, so it's definitely a comfort level," Rush said. "You get a good flow of how he calls the game, kind of what's coming next."
Now, what's next with the backup QB competition?
The Cowboys have one more preseason game next Sunday against Jacksonville. McCarthy has already said Prescott will not play because the final preseason game is typically reserved for players competing for final roster spots.
It's final impression time for Gilbert, Rush and DiNucci, who are not only competing against each other but outside the roster, too. The Cowboys have made no secret that they'll continue to keep an eye out for more competition at the position in free agency.
McCarthy was asked if he's seen enough evidence that Gilbert or Rush will win the No. 2 spot at the end of preseason.
"Well, we have one more week, and we're going to need it," he said.