FRISCO, Texas – Garrett Gilbert and Cooper Rush wish this opportunity arrived through better circumstances.
Not Dak Prescott on the Reserve/Injured list following October ankle surgery. Not Andy Dalton on the Reserve/COVID-19 list this week.
But that's the reality facing the Cowboys (2-6) in Week 8 of the season. And for Gilbert and Rush, it's an opportunity nonetheless as both quarterbacks compete this week in practice for the chance to start Sunday against the Pittsburgh Steelers at AT&T Stadium.
"Obviously hoping Andy gets back as soon as possible and gets well soon. But I'm excited about it. I think Cooper's in the same boat," Gilbert said after Thursday's practice. "Whoever's name is called Sunday we're both going to be excited about the opportunity. We're getting ready to win a game, so the two of us are preparing the best we can together to get ready to go win a football game."
Whether it's Gilbert or Rush, head coach Mike McCarthy plans to go with a little more experience against the undefeated Steelers (7-0). Rookie Ben DiNucci made his first NFL start last Sunday against Philadelphia, completing 21-of-40 passes for 180 yards, but lost two fumbles and got sacked four times in the Cowboys' 23-9 loss.
Gilbert and Rush only have nine career regular-season pass attempts combined, but both have been around the league a few years. Although Rush just arrived back on the Cowboys' practice squad this week, he served as a backup to Prescott the previous three seasons, including offensive coordinator Kellen Moore's first year calling plays in 2019.
"He's been a guy that obviously I've known and knowing his system has really helped," Rush said. "You can kind of jump right in, and 90 percent is the same. Little tweaks in there and you can quickly translate if you ever need it. So it's really easy to get up to speed with anything that's new, for sure."
Released by the Cowboys in May after they reached a one-year deal with Dalton, Rush began this season on the Giants' practice squad. New York waived him in late September, and the Cowboys signed him to the practice squad last Friday, valuing his experience in their system.
Gilbert technically has spent more time with this year's version of Moore's offense, though. The Cowboys signed him off the Browns' practice squad Oct. 13, two days after Prescott suffered a compound fracture and dislocation of his right ankle against the Giants.
It's been "quite the journey" for Gilbert, a former sixth-round pick by the Rams who has been on rosters and/or practice squads for seven NFL teams since 2014. Before joining the Browns in 2019, he also played for the Orlando Apollos of the Alliance of American Football.
The Austin, Texas native actually contemplated a move to coaching at his alma mater, SMU, before the Panthers called in 2017.
He believes his time with multiple teams actually benefits him in a situation like this one: preparing for a potential start on short notice.
"I think one of the bonuses from having been in so many places is it's all about word association," he said. "There are some new things, but most of these concepts are new in name only. So it's associating concept names with stuff that I've done before."
McCarthy says he would like to decide on a starter by Saturday before the team holds its final practice of the week. Thursday's padded practice is expected to be a significant part of the evaluation process.
"This won't be a statistical decision. This is really based off of the rhythm and continuity and command," McCarthy said. "We need to make sure we exercise our game plan against the Steelers defense.
"Obviously, Garrett has a little more current experience than Cooper because he's been here (longer). We're just working through all that. But my goal is just to make sure both guys are ready for Sunday."