By Zach Walker
The way that the Dallas Cowboys have shaped their franchise over the past few years now, their philosophy isn’t a secret, nor is it an exclusive tactic: Protect the Quarterback. The blood that runs through all of the players on this team, flows from Tony Romo. If there is a team that doesn’t revolve around their quarterback, there’s a good bet that, that team is used to drafting very high in the draft. This past season, the Romo-coaster was taken off the rails after the first game, where it appeared that Romo wasn’t ever comfortable against the 49ers. After the opener, the priorities were reset, recalibrations were made the offensive direction, and the star quarterback was actually asked to try and do less. I don’t know how Romo reacted, internally, to taking his foot off the pedal and putting it in cruise control, but we all know how Romo responded on the field, with an MVP season.
The Tony “Oh No” of pundit’s past was replaced with a crisp, efficient football throwing machine. Missing his career regular season touchdown record of 36, by two, but equaling his career year low of interceptions, with only nine with double digit games played in. However, if one were to factor the playoffs into his season’s stats, he threw two more touchdowns than his huge 2007, 13-3 season, even his interceptions were one fewer than his 2009 low. I mentioned a word about 50 or so words ago, efficient, and that’s really where he destroyed teams. Not a single game with a completion percentage below 60, and nine games over 68 percent. Romo was other worldly.
But, the elephant in the room is his health. Rolling into the season opener, huge question marks were about his surgically repaired back, and after the 49ers game, little was done to shake those questions. He grew into his own limitations as the season rolled on, then came a super obvious trap game on Monday Night Football, in a battle with Washington, who had Colt McCoy coming in as the starter. If it wasn’t enough that the defense was making McCoy look like an actual legitimate starting quarterback, the Washington defensive game plan was ‘crash the castle walls’.
On one particular sack of Romo, Keenan Robinson just happened to hit a sweet spot on Romo’s back, and the hit left him immobile on the turf, and every member of Cowboys Nation wondered if the season had just been destroyed. Amazingly, Romo would come back out to finish the game in overtime, and his return to the sideline was nothing short of ‘Herculean’ after finding out what his actual injury was. Two fractured bones in his back. He missed the next game against the NFC leading Arizona Cardinals, and more than him missing the game, was his team missing him. After looking sharp, in getting the Cowboys into overtime against Washington, Brandon Weeden looked absolutely, frustratingly, apocalyptically bad.
I realize that Arizona has a very good defense, but failing to get anything going through the air was like having a vegetable peeler run across your shins. Weeden was such a hot/cold thrower. Antarctic against the Cardinals, hot against Washington, and capable of throwing passes like the masterpiece he worked up to an in stride Terrence Williams against the Colts in relief duty in a blowout. So, what Weeden showed was that he can come out of the bullpen and keep the team in it, but if dragged out to start, it’s a long loss, playing in slow motion.
Dustin Vaughn is the Cowboys current third quarterback, and I have no problem with keeping him around, but I just don’t think the Cowboys think they have anything more than a nice priced emergency quarterback who would roll in to hand the ball off or move the chains through Jason Witten. So now to the reason for this article; I’m going to profile some of the potential developmental quarterbacks in this draft, and maybe a few that might to be floated from another team. I know that the Cowboys aren’t going to be spending even a Day Two pick on a quarterback, so the fourth round and beyond is where I’ll be focusing.
Sean Mannion – Oregon State (Age – 22): I don’t know where the information about Sean Mannion came from to drop him to Day Three of the draft, but he could be the first quarterback taken on Saturday. Mannion has gotten receivers drafted by throwing them open and letting them do their own talent thing. Mannion won’t set an owner’s hair on fire with his flash play, because that’s not his game. Mannion is an operator, a guy that will sit back in the pocket, pick the defense’s weak spots and put the ball right on time. His footwork is outstanding, as if he was well-coached along the way, because when he gets flushed out of the pocket, he’ll roll and reset, and find his target. He’s a quarterback coach’s dream, a prospect with coachable weaknesses but with all the foundation stuff that could make him an above-average starter in the league, maybe after a couple of seasons. But, Mannion has an ace clipped to his cuff, or maybe it’s the Cowboys’ ace? Head coach Jason Garrett’s brother John, was Oregon State’s offensive coordinator this past year during, perhaps, Mannion’s most adverse season with the Beavers, and could share with Jason, about his day-to-day make-up as a quarterback. The only problem is that this team is trying to get further in the playoffs, and could use some more bodies that can be put on the field, and a fourth or even fifth round quarterback isn’t getting on the field, unless the season is in dangerous limbo, with Romo not being able to play.
Shane Carden – East Carolina (Age – 23): Carden is a strong spinner. He’s got a ton of throws to analyze from his tape at East Carolina. Unlike Mannion, Carden was a spread offense quarterback, and doesn’t have too much to evaluate him from under center. From going back and watching Carden, there is a fair amount to like. He’s a fighter, and doesn’t worry about all the fire around him and his game; if he throws an interception, it’s a play that didn’t work THAT time, and will go back again, because he knows that can get that one back. If the game is close, he’s cool; the game slipping, he’s cool, he just handles the situation that he can control. Another trait is his ability to build rapport with his receivers, as he did with Justin Hardy, where it would seem they could connect through a brick wall, and just pick out the shrapnel after the play was over, and get ready for the next play. His size is very much that of Romo, both six foot two, but three inches shorter than Mannion.
Jerry Lovelocke – Prairie View A&M (Age – 22): It’s always curious these journeys that football players take to play football. Lovelocke grew up in Baltimore, and ended up 50 or so miles outside of Houston, at Prairie View A&M. And his journey wasn’t some screwed up chance at the big schools, and had to transfer to small school by way of Texas, second chance story. Lovelocke didn’t get the big time offers, and took is talents to somewhere that wanted him. Physically, he can toe-to-toe, showdown with Jameis Winston, and he actually eclipses Winston in pretty much every measureable. He’s got a strong release, giant hands, and a frame to endure the NFL grind. Lovelocke, by the nature of being a small school player is going to receive a lot of pre-draft attention, but on draft day, is going to be stuffed into Day Three, unless a team just loves what this player brings to the table. He’s got the stats to suggest that he can turn a negative play into something positive, using his legs, but he doesn’t make it his game. The stats show that he runs and moves very similar to Alex Smith; has the wheels, uses them when necessary.
Bryan Bennett – Southeastern Louisiana (Age – 22): A lot of quarterbacks are tasked with leading their offense, sounds rhetorical, but when observed, Bryan Bennett was in charge of leading his offense in both air and ground game. He’s about a 55 percent passer, and that’s not par in the NFL, so he’ll have to really work at that. However, he racked up 5522 passing yards and 39 touchdown passes in two seasons at Southeastern Louisiana. But that’s not the story. On the ground, he ran for 1715 yards and 31 touchdowns during the same two seasons. I saw this guy during practice at the senior bowl, and he’s aggressive, and has some serious grit to his game. An example, during a pass protection breakdown, Bennett rolled left, moved the ball to his left hand and tried to complete the pass southpaw, and during that sort of setting, a sort of weeklong job interview, to show that sort of moxie to throw something like that, that’s gutsy enough to land on a roster and start to get working towards the big job.
Anthony Boone – Duke (Age – 23): Unfortunately, I don’t see Anthony Boone getting drafted, his stats aren’t great, his combine display was supremely unflattering, and he’s under the ideal size, at six foot flat. Boone has a ton about his game to like. To start, he’s got the football intelligence down. Second, despite his size, he sees the field very well. And third, his pocket awareness, mobility, and throwing motion are all modeled after Drew Brees, maybe not by form of emulation or idolization, but likely out of necessity. Either way, his style is very Brees. If Boone were to land on the Dallas Cowboys, and makes it to the preseason games, it’s going to be a very difficult task to remove him from the roster.
In the NFL
Austin Davis – St. Louis Rams (Age – 25): Austin Davis performed when Sam Bradford and Shaun Hill went down, and he’s got the NFL arm talent to swim in the NFL. With the Rams dealing Bradford for Nick Foles, the plan isn’t for anything immediate out of Austin Davis, and the Rams have kept an older quarterback on roster in case the starter went down. I don’t know what it would take to peel Davis from the Rams, but if it were a Day Three pick from next year’s draft picks, it’d be a very sweet deal. The downside is, that Davis is already 25, and when Romo took control of the team, he was 26, and it appears that Romo won’t be burnt out for at least two seasons, so he’ll be into 27 and beyond, which isn’t ideal, but he’s better than Weeden and supremely younger.
Johnny Manziel – Cleveland Browns (Age – 22): Now on to Johnny. Who knows what is going to happen with Johnny Manziel? Is he the Icarus of the football world? What does he really have? In his start against the Bengals, he was an absolute nightmare tornado and it was if a checklist of what Manziel did in college, and was checked off by the Bengals’ defense, as if to say “that just isn’t going to work here”. So why trade for him? Well, the Browns might tab a quarterback in the draft on Day Two, to either push Manziel or just full-on push him off the roster. If the price would be right for a trade, to have Manziel become a Cowboy, to develop, without the pressure of performing early, maybe when Romo’s body fails his spirit, Manziel can work out for in the NFL. Imagine the Cowboy kudos for the Jones’ to pass on Johnny, then turn around and pick him up via trade.