Developing a QB means playing earlier these days

The Cowboys have usually been patient with their QBs. Tony Romo did not throw a pass in a game until his fourth season. AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez

IRVING, Texas – The Dallas Cowboys have finished meeting with Carson Wentz, Jared Goff, Paxton Lynch, Christian Hackenberg, Connor Cook and Jacoby Brissett at their Valley Ranch facility for their last face-to-face sessions with the quarterbacks before the draft.

Any one of them could be a Cowboy, depending on round, circumstance and perhaps a bit of luck.

But whoever would join the Cowboys would not need to be a franchise quarterback. At least not in 2016. Maybe not 2017 or ’18 either. The Cowboys believe in Tony Romo that much.

Any quarterback picked by the Cowboys – should they even go that route – would need to develop. He could be the No. 2 quarterback and called on if something were to happen to Romo the way they turned to Brandon Weeden, Matt Cassel and Kellen Moore last year.

He could sit and get a “Harvard education” owner and general manager Jerry Jones talked about by watching Romo play for the next year, two or even three.

“One of the more challenging things in our game right now is just the development of young players and particularly at that position,” coach Jason Garrett said. “We don’t have that much time with him. We have a nine-week offseason program. A lot of that’s dedicated to running and lifting to give them the physical base they need to go play a season. And once you get into [organized team activities] we’ve reduced the number of those. You want to get your starter ready.

"You want to get him playing with the other guys he’s going to be playing with. But again you have to be disciplined to give the other guys at all positions an opportunity to grow and develop. So as coaches we’re always looking for more time with these guys. We’re always looking for better opportunity to help them in the meeting room, on the practice field, during individual time, to grow and get better and I think the players want that too. But given what the structure is right now we have to do our best to develop young quarterbacks and young players throughout our team and trust me we place a high premium on that.”

In Cowboys’ history, quarterbacks generally sat early, learning the ropes.

Romo did not throw a pass in a game until his fourth season. Danny White started one game in his first four seasons. Roger Staubach split time with Craig Morton before Tom Landry finally gave him the job.

Troy Aikman, the No. 1 overall pick in 1989, lost all 11 games he started as a rookie and took a beating. He eventually developed into a Hall of Fame quarterback, winning three Super Bowls.

In recent league history, however, teams are drafting quarterbacks high and playing them right away.

Since 2010, 23 quarterbacks have been drafted in the top 10 rounds and 17 of them started at least 10 games as rookies. Eight started all 16 games. Only three – Jake Locker, Tennessee, 2011; Brock Osweiler, Denver, 2012; and Jimmy Garoppolo, New England, 2013 – didn’t start one game.

“The only way to learn is to play,” Arizona Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians said at the scouting combine. “I say that, we might draft one, and he’s going to hold a clipboard for a year. But I don’t believe in holding clipboards. You learn from practice. You have to get every snap. The trick with a young guy, especially if you’re going to sit him for a year, is getting him enough practice work to where he’s improving in your offense, not somebody else’s offense. When they’re sitting there and not playing, it’s very hard to develop them.”

For most teams, the starting quarterback takes every snap during the week of practice. Over the past two years, Romo has sat out of most Wednesday practices, which focus on the running game, in order to preserve his surgically-repaired back.

In 2014, the Minnesota Vikings gave up their second- and fourth-round picks to move up to the 32nd pick in the first round to take Teddy Bridgewater. They had acquired Cassel to be their starter and hoped to groom Bridgewater.

But then Cassel got hurt and Bridgewater started 12 games as a rookie and all 16 in 2015.

“I think it’s depending on the system, depending on the coaching staff and what their philosophies are,” Minnesota general manager Rick Spielman said. “There are plenty of ways to do it. There’s no right way or wrong way. I think it’s based on that team and that individual that they do draft whether they’re ready or not or what approach you’re going to take with a young, potentially franchise quarterback.”