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Spagnola: Newest Coop Might Be One Of A Kind


FRISCO, Texas – Here is what we know today, top of mind, when it comes to Cooper Rush.

Suddenly the new "Coooop" in town will be starting his third consecutive game for the Cowboys, high noon Sunday at AT&T Stadium with the Washington Red … er, Commanders (come on, some habits are hard to break) in town, the resurgent 2-1 Cowboys trying to win their third straight and 10th of the last 13 over 1-2 Washington.

We know Rush, the Cowboys backup quarterback with Dak Prescott's hand on the mend, is starting again, just the fourth of his five-year NFL career, basically all with the Cowboys after a brief cup of tea in 2020 with the Giants.

And Coop is trying to do what no other Cowboys quarterback has ever done in the franchise's previous 62 seasons: Win his first four NFL starts with a blue star on his helmet, trying to log another on Sunday after his first starting win last year at Minnesota and then two more the past two games of 2022.

Now think about that. No … other … Cowboys … QB … ever … never … has … accomplished … that.

In order, not Don Meredith (2-2), but did get credit for the first win in franchise history in the 1961 season opener after the Cowboys went 0-11-1 in 1960.

Not Craig Morton (2-2).

Not Roger Staubach, winning his first three but losing the fourth, 20-7 to St. Louis in 1970, Tom Landry lifting the second-year quarterback early in the game after being intercepted twice.

Not Danny White, getting off to a 3-1 start.

Not Troy Aikman, going 0-11 his 1989 rookie year, the Cowboys finishing 1-15.

Not even the wonderkid Tony Romo, going 3-1, only a 22-19 loss to, uh, Washington in 2006 interrupting a 6-0 start, but in his fourth NFL season.

That's two Hall of Fame quarterbacks, three Ring of Honor quarterbacks with a fourth likely on his way, and every one of those guys but Romo taking multiple Cowboys teams to either the NFL or conference championship games, with Staubach and Aikman accounting for all five of the franchise's Super Bowl wins and Morton to a Super Bowl appearance.

But now, here comes the unassuming Coop, already having tied Staubach and Jason Garrett, a man his career is tied to by the hip, as the only three to start their NFL careers in a Cowboys uniform at 3-0. This self-admitting guy maintaining he's unrecognizable in public, meaning, come on, can someone out there comp the guy a dinner for keeping this Cowboys season afloat with Dak recovering from fracturing the bone below his right thumb in the opener?

"Just means I'm in a good situation," says Rush, nearly blushing over his accomplishment of winning those first three starts. "We've got a great defense, we run the rock. Our defense, I think every game I've played they let in under 20 points. So, they make playing QB a lot easier. And rely on those guys to run the ball, good protection, making plays for me. That's what I think about."

Yeah, right. OK, but look, all this from a guy who went undrafted in a 2017 NFL Draft when 10 quarterbacks were selected and but three – in order taken Mitch Trubisky, Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson – still considered starters.

Yep, the Cowboys signed him as a rookie free agent after a fine career at Central Michigan, the only undrafted rookie to make the 2017 roster out of training camp. One draft guide had Rush ranked the 10th best QB in the draft.

Here was one report from an unnamed AFC scout: "He played in the MAC, not the SEC. If he made some of those throws against NFL cornerbacks and safeties they'd turn into pick-sixes. He's a great kid, he's smart, but he falls below the minimum standard for arm strength."

Here is another from "His body type and lack of functional arm strength will immediately make him a draft reject on some team's boards, but that could be a mistake. Processes as quickly as any quarterback I've studied over the last five years and has the anticipation and accuracy to counter his lack of velocity. Mental makeup and consistency of production make him a legitimate NFL roster candidate."

This by Lance Zierlein, giving him a 5.50 draft grade, meaning priority undrafted free agent.

But how about this coincidence? In the comparable category it was none other than with one Kellen Moore. You kidding me?

"Yeah, I knew that," Rush says laughing.

And not only does Moore end up being his quarterback coach with the Cowboys, then his current offensive coordinator, but it was Moore his rookie season who he eventually edged off the Cowboys' 53-man roster in 2017.

But how fortunate for Rush the Cowboys were the ones bringing him in that year, the one after Prescott sent the injured Romo in 2016 into eventual retirement, outplaying Luke McCown in training camp, and really outplaying Moore, too, during the preseason.

When Will McClay, Cowboys vice president of player personnel, paged back into their scouting report on Rush, he found the following: "Had won at his level; able to create from the pocket; managed the mentals; knows how to play the position; good runner; point guard."

As for then head coach Jason Garrett, with the Cowboys looking for another candidate to groom as Dak's backup, he says of what they were thinking of Rush back then, "He was a successful college quarterback, won games, so who do we like in free agency compared to the rest of the guys? He would never wow you physically. But what impressed you is how he knew how to play the game and knew how to move the ball and score points.

"When he comes in, it's not like, wow, look at Cooper Rush. Kind of quiet, not a lot of bravado, but when you put him in the preseason games, he moved the ball and scored points. So, we looked at each other and said, 'This guy can play. He could operate the offense and execute.'"

Garrett was right at the time when it comes to the 23-year-old that one scouting report listed his body as "frumpy." Rush just knocks it out of the park in four 2017 preseason game appearances. Why, he finished completing 38 of 51 passes for 427 yards, six touchdowns, no interceptions, all coming to a 138.3 QB rating.

In fact, in his final three preseason games, he completed 29 of 33 passes, five for touchdowns.

Think that didn't impress the head coach, Garrett having been the perennial career backup quarterback himself during his 13-year NFL playing career?

"He had a good understanding of how to … you know, my dad would always say, 'Does this guy have an aptitude to play?'" Garrett says of his late dad, Jim Garrett, a former longtime scout for the Cowboys. "Coop certainly had an aptitude to play.

"Then the other thing that happened (in camp), maybe wasn't impressive in practice, but it was in those games, if you remember."

Remember them well, and Rush impressed enough that five weeks into that season, when the Cowboys needed to create a roster spot on the 53 to prevent the Eagles from poaching tight end Blake Jarwin off the practice squad, the Cowboys figured no way they could release Rush and get him through waivers and then re-sign him to the practice squad. So instead they released the vested veteran Moore, and told him not to go anywhere since he wouldn't be exposed to waivers and that they would re-sign him to the practice squad. And they did, though Moore then retiring after the season and becoming the Cowboys QB coach in 2018.

After that, a lot of sitting and watching for Rush – but learning, too – over those next four seasons, only appearing in five games for mop-up duty, attempting just four passes and then spending the 2020 COVID interrupted year initially with the Giants during camp after the Cowboys released him in the offseason after signing veteran Andy Dalton.

And who brought him there? Then the Giants offensive coordinator Jason Garrett after the Cowboys didn't renew his contract following the 2019 season. Sometimes it pays to know someone.

"It was huge," Rush says of Garrett's influence on his career. "He was the guy who kept me around, gave me a chance in the first place, kind of believed in me, saw what I could do playing the quarterback position. Undrafted guy, you're not going to lay it up in that situation and jump off the tape. But playing quarterback and him playing quarterback and his experience, he could see what he had in me, and I owe him a lot."

That the Giants released Cooper off their practice squad a month into that season, deciding instead to keep another Cowboys practice squad quarterback castoff, Clayton Thorson, instead was against Garrett's better judgment.

"Thorson has a good workout and they decide to go with him instead," Garrett points out, knowing it was an unsettled offseason with all the COVID regulations and no preseason games. "I was like, 'What? You've got to be kidding me?' Said to myself, 'This is why a lot of quarterback decisions are made in this NFL based on a workout.'"

Well, Rush had impressed Moore, too, his former teammate and coach. A month after the Giants released Rush, the Cowboys signed him to their practice squad.

"He's been great to me since Day One when I got here," Rush says of Moore. "I think that's huge, always an advantage to have coaches that played the position, see the game from the QB perspective and calling it, reads, things like that. It's a big-time asset."

Well, well, here we are today, a road well-traveled, but solidifying this team's confidence in him with that performance last season at Minnesota, leading the Cowboys to not only a 20-16 win with Dak out (sore calf), but one coming from behind, throwing the winning touchdown pass to Amari Cooper with 51 seconds left.

Then Cincinnati, taking down the AFC defending champs and Joe Burrow in Game 2 this season, 20-17, driving the Cowboys close enough for Brett Maher's walk-off 50-yard, game-winning field goal.

Then Monday night at the Giants, bringing the Cowboys back from a 13-6 second-half deficit to score 17 straight points on three consecutive possessions and breaking a fourth quarter 13-13 tie by driving the Cowboys 89 yards on 11 plays, concluding with his one-yard TD pass on CeeDee Lamb's mind-bending (body, too) grab.

That's three wins in his first three NFL starts, joining not only Staubach and Garrett, but just 25 other NFL quarterbacks to do so. That's three consecutive fourth-quarter game-winning drives, another NFL superlative, joining only Bears rookie Virgil Carter to do so in 1968.

Just all so remarkable no matter what takes place going forward when considering the humble beginnings of a "frumpy" quarterback elbowing his way into the NFL undrafted and having to wait five years before getting his first start, and now two more the next season. And to think all he's gone through, not only for roster manipulation reasons starting the 2022 season on the Cowboys practice squad, but after the Giants released him in 2020 sitting around for a month at home without a job, working out, waiting for a call and getting just one workout from the Texans.

And when the call came, it was back to but a practice squad here with the Cowboys.

"At that point you wanted to just get back in the building, no matter where it was," Rush says after career-interrupted. "Obviously being here, it was a fortunate situation, knowing Kellen, knowing the guys and the staff, and it obviously was a good fit. At that point, you just wanted to get back in, P-Squad, on the team, whatever works. Once you're in, at least you have a chance."

And what makes him so successful on the field? His composure, his poise, his patience? Or as one of those scouting reports way back in 2017 said of him, "If he gets the right opportunity, he is intelligent and mature enough to eventually assume and excel in a starting role."

And for Garrett, now doing TV analyst work for NBC, just seeing the success Rush has had in these first three starts, keeping the Cowboys afloat with Dak out, brings a smile to his face.

"I think the world of him as a guy and as a player," Garrett says when asked if he takes any personal satisfaction of seeing Rush succeed at this point in his career. "It's very satisfying, not personally, but so happy for him it's worked out this way.

"I love Cooper Rush. It's easy to stick with a guy like that."

No kidding, especially considering what he's gone through to get to this point, now trying to become the first Cowboys quarterback to win his first four NFL starts.

So, add perseverance to that list of qualities, too.

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