SAN DIEGO – When Brandon Weeden signed with the Cowboys back on March 17, he had both short-term and long-term goals.
Of course, one of the reasons he picked Dallas was the opportunity to make the team as the No. 3 quarterback behind Tony Romo and Kyle Orton. And eventually, perhaps in 2015, he could be the backup and then after that, who knows.
Fast forward about five months and here's Weeden, who has taken the majority of first-team reps all summer long and many here in training camp, about to trot out with the first-team offense when the Cowboys take on the San Diego Chargers.
Just as he planned all along?
"No, not exactly," Weeden says with a chuckle. "In this league, you never know what to expect. But I did think Dallas was a place where I could go and compete for a job. I didn't really think it would turn out like this, but you just have to take advantage of opportunities. But so far, I couldn't have dreamed for a better situation."
And while no one needs to remind Weeden this is a temporary status as the Cowboys continue to be smart with Romo's rehab of back surgery, he also knows the advantage of taking as many reps as possible, especially when the regular season gets here and he's backing up a quarterback who has undergone two back surgeries in the last two offseasons.
Weeden, the 21st overall pick of the Browns in 2012 who started 20 career games (5-15 as a starter) and was cut by Cleveland this offseason, still has a hard time calling himself a backup. He's not far removed from being the No. 1 guy so he's still adjusting to this role as well.
"It's a completely different mindset. I've never really had to be a backup other than last year when I got injured," Weeden said. "But really the last four years I've been a starter. You try to prepare the same way but you're not getting the same amount of reps. You have to stay behind and get a lot of mental reps."
Fortunately for Weeden, he's received a lot more of the physical reps than he ever imagined. Not only was Romo extremely limited in the offseason and will still sit out a few practices during camp – not to mention Thursday's game with the Chargers – but Orton was a complete no-show this summer and was eventually released.
That meant Weeden was under center just about every day. He was throwing the balls to Dez Bryant and Jason Witten and giving the handoffs to DeMarco Murray. And it was his blindside being protected by Tyron Smith.
And that's how it'll likely be for a little while Thursday night at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego. The first-team offense generally gets a series or two in this preseason opener.
"We're not really preparing for the Chargers or breaking down what they do," Weeden said. "It's more about us and what we do. For myself, it's about going out and functioning within the offense. I don't want to have pre-snap penalties or mistakes. We need to go out, take care of the football and put together some 8-10 play drives and punch it in the end zone. For the most part, I'm not worried about numbers or anything, just going out and playing smart football."
And don't be surprised if Weeden gets a few snaps with the second-teamers as well since technically, he is still a backup.
"We anticipate Brandon playing a lot in this game," head coach Jason Garrett said. "He needs to play. If you know his biography, his time he spent in baseball, a two-year stint at Oklahoma State and playing in a couple of different systems in Cleveland he just needs to takes snaps. He has a lot of natural ability. You can see that. Really good throwing the football. He can throw any kind of ball you want him to throw. He just needs to take snaps."
Veteran quarterbacks coach Wade Wilson, who also played 19 seasons in the NFL, has had constant work with Weeden this entire summer. Wilson said Weeden already has a good command of the two-minute offense, something that typically takes more time with players new to the system. [embedded_ad]
"He's throwing the ball extremely well. I've been very impressed. He's had a real solid camp," Wilson said. "To me the best thing that he's done is the no-huddle code word stuff. It's similar to what he did in college. He's adapting to the new system he's here with now, but the hardest part for him is calling the play, the verbiage. A lot of that is new words and just getting the play called, there's a lot of verbiage. But he's very confident in what he's doing."
Still, Weeden knows that however he performs Thursday night, it's not going to change his status as the backup – at least not for now. "Tony Romo is the starting quarterback of this team and it'll be my job to help him the best way I can," Weeden said. "He helps me a lot more than I help him but as the backup, there's things you can see from the side and maybe a tip here or there. More than anything, you just have study and be ready."
And being ready without taking snaps during the season is a challenge.
"You've got to go about it a different way but somehow someway you've got to find a way to get prepared," Weeden said. "It's a tough spot and it's challenging. But at the same time, if I get thrown in there, they expect me to be ready and not miss a beat. I'll be ready. We've got a great set of skill guys and an outstanding offensive line so what better position to be in."