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Friday, August 8, 2014
Weeden does his job in preseason opener

By Jean-Jacques Taylor

SAN DIEGO -- Normally, there's not much reason to pay attention to the backup quarterback, especially in the first preseason game.

But Tony Romo has had two back surgeries in the past year, and the Dallas Cowboys are so leery of him tweaking it again that they regularly hold him out of practice. Strange for a player the team continues to insist is 100 percent.

Well, at least now you understand why it's important for Weeden to prove he can successfully lead the team if he must play for an extended period because Romo is hurt. At worst, the coaching staff would like to know he can be a successful game manager.

Weeden, a first-round bust in Cleveland, played the entire first half of the Cowboys' 27-7 loss Thursday and did a solid job.

He completed 13 of 17 passes for 107 yards and a touchdown. He showed good mobility, moving out of the pocket several times to extend plays, and the offense moved the ball with him at the helm.

More important, he avoided turnovers. That's his most important job, if he ever gets on the field.

This offense has enough weapons -- Dez Bryant, Jason Witten, DeMarco Murray and a strong offensive line -- that all Weeden needs to do is give those guys an opportunity to make plays.

He didn't, or couldn't, do that in Cleveland because of the dearth of offensive talent. In 20 starts in Cleveland, Weeden threw 23 touchdowns, had 26 interceptions and compiled a 5-15 record.

Nine times, Weeden threw two or more interceptions in a game. Cleveland was 1-8 in those games; it was 4-5 when he didn't throw an interception.

Against San Diego, aided by Scott Linehan's approach to play-calling, Weeden found himself in a position to succeed much of the night.

Linehan used the running game to set up play-action passes, something the Cowboys rarely did last season. Romo threw only 74 play-action passes last season, one of the league's lowest totals. Weeden threw two on his first series Thursday and three in the first half. The Cowboys moved quickly from their 20 to the San Diego 40, but an illegal hands to the face penalty on a MacKenzy Bernadeau and an offensive pass interference penalty on Terrance Williams ruined their first drive.

Weeden did his best work on the Cowboys' second drive, leading them  80 yards for a touchdown in 11 plays. He completed a 26-yard pass to tight end Gavin Escobar, who made a nice run after the catch, on third-and-6, moving the ball to the San Diego 20.

Five plays later, Weeden made his best play of the game.

On third-and-4 from the San Diego 4-yard line, Weeden rolled right and hit tight end James Hanna in the back of the end zone for a touchdown. Weeden took a big hit from a defensive lineman as he delivered the ball, but he still fit it into a tight spot just beyond the safety's diving attempt to swat it away for a 7-0 lead.

"That was a really good play on the touchdown, moving to his right and throwing the ball back inside. It was a really good throw. I had a good view of it," Garrett said. "The big thing we were interested in seeing is how he conducted himself, the leadership part. From my vantage, he handled it well. He seemed comfortable, he seemed confident, and I think the guys responded well to him."

The Cowboys finished the first half with 72 yards and 13 first downs.

Given a chance to lead the 2-minute offense, Weeden moved the Cowboys from the 20 to the San Diego 49, but the drive fizzled and the clock ran out after a completion to Tim Benford in the middle of the field.

The one criticism about Weeden throughout training camp has been that he often stares at his primary read, allowing defenders to read his eyes and get a good break on his passes. He stared down a few receivers against San Diego, but the Chargers never punished him.

It's an area he must continue to improve, because if he plays in the regular season, those are the types of errors that can lead to turnovers.

"It feels good to come out here with a star on your helmet,” Weeden said. “It's a dream come true for a kid from Oklahoma City."

Nothing will make you feel good about the Cowboys' fate if injuries force Romo out of the lineup, but if Weeden plays well in the preseason, at least you'll have hope.