IRVING, Texas -- Now entering his fourth year in the NFL, Brandon Weeden is experiencing continuity for the first time.
This marks the first year Weeden has been in the same offense with the same offensive playcaller in back to back seasons. In 2012 with the Cleveland Browns, he ran a West Coast offense. In 2013, he ran a similar timing-based offense to the Cowboys but with different verbiage.
In his second season with the Cowboys, Weeden has gone from trying to learn the offense to understanding the hows and whys of the offense used by Scott Linehan.
“I think he’s probably the most improved player,” quarterbacks coach Wade Wilson said. “He just has a great understanding of the concepts, of the protections, calling the plays, all those things. He’s made a big jump this year.”
And it’s come with him taking few snaps this spring. Last year Tony Romo was a spectator in the offseason program as he recovered from back surgery, giving Weeden all the first-team work. He performed well enough for the Cowboys to cut Kyle Orton, who had been contemplating retirement before joining the Buffalo Bills after his release.
“It’s just a comfort thing,” Weeden said. “Now I can really fine tune what we’re doing because I’m not having to go home to study for three hours just learning plays and calling plays and doing all that. Now I can out and fine tine what I want to do, work on reading defenses, work on understanding everything versus just making sure I don’t screw the first part of it up. I appreciate that from Sticks [Wilson]. That’s a good comment because I busted my ass. I’ve worked so hard this offseason, training wise, throwing wise to put myself in position.”
A backup quarterback’s job is not easy. He is expected to keep an offense running freely if the starter goes down to injury and do it without the benefit of much practice. It helped Weeden that he took the first-team snaps in Wednesday practices with Romo sitting out to rehab his back. He took snaps in five games and completed 24 of 41 passes for 303 yards with three touchdowns and two interceptions.
But a backup’s season is defined by a start, not mop-up duty. With Romo out with two transverse process fractures, Weeden complete 18 of 33 passes for 183 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions in a loss to the Arizona Cardinals.
Weeden has looked at all of the games he played in 2014 but none more than the Arizona loss.
“I didn’t play as well as I would’ve liked against Arizona, but I tell everybody that’s the best defense I ever played against. Since I’ve been in the league, that’s the best defense I played against. Their scheme was good. They’ve got really good corners on the outside, and they have just really good players. I’d like to have that one over ... I just didn’t play well enough to give us a chance to win.”
The Cowboys did not go backup-quarterback shopping in the offseason, but they did browse the market and had some interest in Shaun Hill and Matt Schaub. Weeden said he was unaware of the Cowboys’ interest. The Cowboys worked out several quarterback prospects leading up to the draft but did not select one.
“I’m not stupid, I understand if they bring vet guys like that in they’re probably not as high on me as I need them to be,” Weeden said. “So I knew I needed to do something there. But they didn’t so that shows that they’ve got confidence in me. I think I came off the bench and played well. After my meeting with Coach [Jason] Garrett after the year we were on the same page, that I did do well, but at the same time, we’d like to have a little different result in the Arizona game.”
In a perfect world, the Cowboys hope they don’t need Weeden to start a game or play significant snaps. That’s the wish of every team in the NFL. But the Cowboys feel much better about him in 2015.
“I think he’s had a great offseason,” Linehan said. “We’re in the process so we’ll see, but I think everybody gets more comfortable the more they’re in a system. This is really a little bit similar to what he’s had his last year in Cleveland, but it was his third system in three years. That’s not easy for guys. Now it’s the same system two years in a row. That’s a benefit for him, and you see that on the practice field.”