IRVING, Texas -- For the first time in his NFL career, Brandon Weeden is entering the regular season with a clearly defined backup role.
Weeden, the Week 1 starter for the Cleveland Browns the past two seasons, knew he'd have no chance to challenge Tony Romo for the starting job when he signed with the Dallas Cowboys. He readily accepts being the backup, understanding that he won't play unless something goes wrong or the score is lopsided late in the game.
But Weeden can't afford to be comfortable with the idea that he'll spend every Sunday wearing a baseball cap and holding a clipboard on the sideline.
"It's a different mindset, but I think you have to go about it the same way," said Weeden, a former first-round pick who was 5-15 as a starter with the Browns. "You have to be prepared every snap because playing this position, you just never know. Whether it's for a play here, a play there, you just never know. You've just got to be ready.
"You've got to prepare as if you're going to play. You can't take nights off and not study at night and not do the things you normally do if you were the starter. I think you've got to prepare the same way and when your number is called, go in there and make the best of it."
Weeden got an edge in preparing to play for Dallas for the same reason the Cowboys will likely need him at some point this season: Romo's bad back.
While Romo sat out all of the offseason workouts, Weeden worked with the starters. Weeden also got all of the reps with the ones during the several practices that Romo missed for precautionary reasons this summer.
Weeden had mixed results during the preseason, finishing with a mediocre 77.2 passer rating in the four games. His best performance by far was when he played behind the starting offensive line in the preseason opener, completing 13 of 17 passes for 107 yards and a touchdown against the San Diego Chargers. His worst performance was in the finale, when he was 6-of-12 for 35 yards with an interception playing with backups.
"Overall, there's a lot to build on,” Weeden said.
At this point, Weeden's job is to prepare like he'll play every week despite not knowing when he'll get his next snap.