Dallas Cowboys Must Make The Development Of Dustin Vaughan A Priority


It can be argued that the highest profile job in the NFL is being the starting quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys. A position that is currently occupied by a 35-year old Tony Romo. It can also be argued that the least likely heir to that throne would be a 24-year old, second-year quarterback out of little known West Texas A&M. But that’s exactly what many Cowboys fans are hoping for.

Dustin Vaughan enters his second season with the Cowboys primed to win the back-up job to Romo. At least, those are the expectations many in the media and throughout CowboysNation are placing on him. But the former Lone Star Conference’s Offensive Player of the Year has some different goals in mind. Ones that have been set by his head coach, Jason Garrett, and his other coaches for him to accomplish this offseason.

"“It didn’t have much to do with talent or ability on the field,” Vaughan told the Amarillo Globe-News when asked about the coach’s expectations were for the young quarterback during OTA’s. “It had everything to do with being confident as a leader. Being able to lead a group of guys to do the best we possibly can. They told me to be confident and take control while I’m in there getting rep’s in practice. They want me to command the offense. They also want to see better accuracy with my throws. I need to have extreme control of each of my throws and that is what I’m working hard at.”"

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Leadership and accuracy are certainly the traits needed to become a starting quarterback. But at 6-5, 235 pounds, Vaughan already has the size and arm strength that match the ideal physical specs for a prototypical NFL quarterback. And his numbers in college also seem to suggest he has the tools to become a starter.

As a senior at West Texas A&M in 2013, Dustin led the entire NCAA in passing yards by throwing for 5,401 yards in just 14 games. He was the only quarterback in all of college football to top the 5,000 yard mark that season.

Vaughan also threw for 53 touchdowns and 10 interceptions in his final year as a Buffalo. But those accomplishments were all made against questionable Division II-level competition and while running a pistol/shotgun-type offense.

But according to Garrett, a former NFL quarterback himself, Vaughan is on the right path to finding future success.

"“I think he’s gotten a lot better,” Garrett told the Dallas Morning News earlier this month. “I don’t think there’s any question about that. It’s a huge jump for anybody. I told our team the other day, you could be a four-time All-American, a four-time All-SEC and walk in here and it’s a huge jump. It’s a huge transition for a rookie to come into the National Football League. And then you kind of go even further when you’re talking about guys going from smaller-school situations and then particularly at that position…But he’s certainly a different player than he was a year ago.”"

But has Vaughan grown enough to outplay fourth-year veteran quarterback Brandon Weeden this offseason? After a horrific outing last year in his lone regular season start against the Arizona Cardinals in Week Nine, Weeden still seems to have the coaching staff’s confidence as the primary back-up going into training camp.

And why shouldn’t Weeden have their faith? Despite the egg he laid against the Cardinals, one must consider the Card’s dominant defense last year. Combine that with the fact the elder quarterback has two-years of starting NFL experience in his back pocket, and a proven player like Weeden seems light years ahead of a Division II undrafted free agent.

Even Cowboys quarterback coach Wade Wilson named Weeden the team’s most improved player this offseason.

"“I think he’s probably the most improved player,” Wilson told ESPN. “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.”"

But investing more reps into a 24-year old raw prospect, like Vaughan, makes much more sense to me then pouring even more resources into a 31-year old first round bust, like Weeden, who has had multiple chances to win and keep a starting job in the NFL…and has failed.

Keeping Weeden in place as the primary back-up in Dallas is the safe choice. But developing Vaughan is about securing the team’s future beyond Romo. The latter should take priority for the Cowboys.

Whether it’s the right choice for the future or not, I think Vaughan will have to show a ridiculous amount of growth in order to leapfrog Weeden on the depth chart this offseason. Maybe the biggest area where he needs to show improvement is simply having more confidence, in both knowing the gameplan and in himself as a leader.

But Weeden is in his final contract year, and it wouldn’t be a huge surprise if Dallas opted not to re-sign him. So regardless of what happens in 2015, it appears it’s only a matter of time as Vaughan will likely get his shot to prove himself as a viable back-up to Romo either this offseason or the next.

For Vaughan, the focus this offseason isn’t about leapfrogging Weeden on the depth chart. It’s just about getting better at his job.

"“I don’t think my goals have changed as much,” Vaughan told the Amarillo Globe-News. “My goal is to go out and get better every single day in practice. I think this year I know details and what I need to do to get better. I’m focusing on that and hopefully it makes me a better player.”"

According to Jason Garrett, it already has.

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