SAN DIEGO – Tony Romo wore a ball cap on his night off. His backup, Brandon Weeden, got one series before joining him on the sideline.
That meant extensive work for the Cowboys' two younger quarterbacks, second-year veteran Dustin Vaughan and rookie Jameill Showers, in Thursday's preseason-opening 17-7 loss to the Chargers.
Vaughan, the third quarterback last season as an undrafted rookie out of West Texas A&M, got six series between the first and third quarters. Playing with a mix of starters and backups, he showed overall good command of the offense in completing 12 of 18 passes for 106 yards, including a 62-yard touchdown drive in the second quarter.
"It felt good out there," Vaughan said. "You don't have coaches standing behind you – they're calling the play and they're putting you in control of making the play that you know you can make. It felt really good to have that freedom out there and to feel confident out there, better than I did last year, which was a big step for me."
The Cowboys entered camp hoping to get a deeper evaluation of Vaughan following his rookie season in which he took very few reps. Thursday was a good start, head coach Jason Garrett said.
"It was good that we got him some extended work and I thought he handled it well," Garrett said. "He was in some different situations. We saw him move around a little bit and make some plays, both on naked type plays but also when he had to move out of the pocket he kept his eyes up and made some good throws down the field and handled the duress of the game. I thought he kept his poise and I thought he handled some third-down situations well."
"Ultimately we didn't move the ball and score enough points with any of the units, but I do think there were some positive things that came out of it for him."
Before giving way to Vaughan, Weeden's lone series with some of the first-team offense was going well – he completed four of five passes for 42 yards in place of a resting Romo, who is likely to play as preseason goes on – but Weeden couldn't control a snap at the San Diego 32-yard line that resulted in a fumble recovery and return by the Chargers to the Dallas 33. San Diego scored the opening touchdown six plays later.
Garrett said the ball was snapped high to Weeden, but the veteran quarterback said he just bobbled it.
"We converted some third downs and had some pretty good chunks on first downs," Weeden said. "Overall, we did some good things, and if you take away the last play, it was a positive drive."
Showers, the rookie free agent from UTEP, entered late in the third quarter and finished the game 5 of 11 for 40 yards with 18 yards rushing.
"Most of his plays were kind of on movement type plays, but I thought he handled those well," Garrett said. "He was decisive getting the ball out of his hand and he was also decisive when he decided to run."
Just as he had been doing in practice, Showers started the game on special teams units. Credited with one tackle, he admitted he was a bit nervous for his NFL debut.
"It was like a dream come true for me," he said.
Going forward, Showers said he needs to work on calming his feet and setting up his throws better, something that should come with experience.
"I thought I got rid of the ball quicker than I've been doing," he said, "so that was one of my goals this game was to just get it out of my hands so I'm not holding onto the ball."
"Those reps are definitely gold for me. Any time I get any type of reps, I've got to try to take advantage of it."