Despite Fewer Practice Reps, Weeden Sees "Big Difference" In Comfort Level

IRVING, Texas –Here's one reason the Cowboys are taking film study to another level this year with new virtual reality technology:

Brandon Weeden's job is pretty important.

Tony Romo's is* the* most important, of course. That's precisely the point. Weeden's always one play away from game action.

Since the starting quarterback gets the majority of the real-time practice snaps, the team is hopeful virtual reality simulation will help the backups – Weeden and No. 3 QB Dustin Vaughan – mentally replicate Romo's reps.

Given Romo's immeasurable value to the offense entering his ninth full season as the starter, "Line 1" for Weeden (as head coach and former NFL backup Jason Garrett would say) is staying ready. His first full season in the Cowboys' system helped.

"It's a big difference," Weeden said. "You're around the same guys. You're around the same coordinator (Scott Linehan), the same coaching staff, and I didn't have that in Cleveland (from 2012-13). We've been in the same offense for the second year now, so it's nice not worrying about what's going on trying to fit in."

Entering his second season in Dallas, Weeden knows full well that he's one play away. A year ago he took basically all the first-team offseason snaps while Romo recovered from a second back procedure since 2013. During the regular season Weeden got first-team work on Wednesdays, the primary installation day for the offense, while Romo rested.

Those reps mostly weren't available to Weeden this offseason. Romo returned to full practice participation in OTAs and minicamp for the first time since 2012.

A stronger, healthier Romo means Weeden must maximize reduced reps. The virtual reality technology should help, and he has a much better feel for the scheme one year into the job. Now it's getting down to the "nuts and bolts of protections," he says, and refining certain nuances within the offense.[embeddedad0]

Quarterbacks coach Wade Wilson has seen a "big jump" in Weeden's progress. Given Romo's recent injury history, that's an encouraging sign if Weeden does in fact keep the No. 2 job from Vaughan in training camp and preseason.

Amid lingering questions about his health last year, Romo surprised many by starting 15 of 16 games and guiding the Cowboys to the NFC East title and a Divisional Round appearance with NFL bests and club records in passer rating (113.2) and completion percentage (69.9). At 12-4, the Cowboys were one win short of clinching homefield advantage throughout the playoffs.

The one start Romo missed was Week 9 due to transverse process fractures in his back, and Weeden had his hands full with Arizona's stout defense. He completed 18 of 33 passes for 183 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions in a 28-17 loss.

"I didn't play as well as I would've liked against Arizona, but I tell everybody that's the best defense I've ever played against," Weeden said. "Their scheme was good, there are really good corners on the outside, and they have just really good players. I'd like to have that one over . . . They were tough. I just didn't play well enough to give us a chance to win."

Since Romo replaced Drew Bledsoe as the starter in 2006, the Cowboys are 6-9 when he's inactive.

The further removed he gets from the December 2013 back surgery, the better Romo feels. That's the biggest positive the Cowboys took from the offseason, team owner/general manager Jerry Jones said.

If Romo gets sidelined again, though, Weeden believes he's ready to step up his play.

"Now I'm comfortable, I have a pretty good feel for the guys around me, and I love it here," he said. "It's a good offense and it's a good opportunity for me."

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