In the Cowboys system, the No. 2 quarterback almost never gets first-team snaps, finding himself instead limited to scout-team work. That's been the case for Kellen Moore during his stint as the backup to Tony Romo replacement Matt Cassel ... until this week, anyway.
We were first to report on 105.3 The Fan that on Tuesday and Wednesday, Moore actually vaulted up from there by taking some first-unit reps.
Moore compiled a 50-3 record, including a 3-1 bowl record. Moore's 50-3 mark is considered an all-time record in NCAA Division I FBS history. The worst the Broncos finished was second in the Mountain West during his senior year. He finished his collegiate career as a two-time All-American and a Heisman Trophy finalist in 2010, losing to Cam Newton of Auburn.
Despite his resume as a winner, NFL teams wanted nothing to do with Moore in the 2012 NFL draft. There were 11 quarterbacks taken in the draft. Some where noteworthy, such as Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, and Russell Wilson. Others were camp bodies or perpetual practice-squaders like Indianapolis' Chandler Harnish, taken in the seventh round, or fellow seventh-rounder B.J. Coleman, who was cut after the 2013 preseason to make room for journeyman backup Seneca Wallace.
Moore's stature scared teams. Barely standing 6'0'', NFL clubs didn't think Moore had the ability to stand in the pocket. Moreover, scouts had concerns about his mobility and his arm strength. All of this contributed to Moore falling out of the draft entirely and also causing him to be a "more motivated quarterback" when he arrived to Detroit in April 2012.
In Detroit, Moore never saw regular season action in his three seasons with the team. He was nothing more than a preseason groundhog who would see his shadow during the four exhibition games and then return to his practice-squad burrow as the regular season fired up. There was no way he was ever going to supplant Pro Bowler Matt Stafford at quarterback, so Moore's only shot at staying in the Motor City was to be his backup.
"Second fiddle'' was a job Moore was unable to secure. Head coach Jim Schwartz and offensive coordinator Scott Linehan trusted Shaun Hill his first two off-seasons. New head coach Jim Caldwell and new offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi trusted retread Dan Orlovsky in Moore's final two years. After the 2015 preseason, where he didn't attempt a pass, Detroit cut Moore for good. For his preseason career, he went 106/177 for 1,096 yards, eight touchdowns, three interceptions, and an 85.8 passer rating.
The day after Detroit released him, Moore found his way to Dallas the next day and reunited with Linehan, who was serving in the same capacity for the Cowboys as he had for the Lions. Again, Moore was nothing more than a practice sqauder as four-time Pro Bowler Tony Romo held the top spot and backup Brandon Weeden the clipboard. Still, Moore was excited to work with Linehan again and also encouraged by Boise State alumni Tyrone Crawford, Orlando Scandrick, and DeMarcus Lawrence having a strong locker-room presence.
Like in Detroit, the coaching staff, it seemed, would start anybody other than Moore. Naturally, when Romo suffered his collarbone injury in Week Two, Dallas turned to Weeden. But rather than being confident in Moore, Dallas sent a fifth-round pick in the 2016 draft to Buffalo for backup Matt Cassel, who was deposed during the preseason by Tyrod Taylor, and a seventh-rounder. When Weeden failed, or the coaching staff needed a scapegoat for the team's three-game skid post-Romo, the Cowboys turned to the new guy, Cassel, after the bye week rather than Moore, even though he had two years experience with Linehan.
Moore made his way to the active roster during this span, but the Cowboys released him on Nov. 10 to stash him back on the practice squad two days later. Not that it really mattered, for Romo was set to return in two weeks and save the Cowboys season from the 0-4 Cassel tenure. Once Romo broke his collarbone again against Carolina on Thanksgiving, Cassel reclaimed the signal-caller job, which also elevated Moore to backup.
Cassel's dreadful performance, coupled with the Cowboys 4-9 record and unlikely playoff hopes, have led the coaching staff to rethink their quarterback situation. A cynic would say Cassel gives the opposition more of a chance to win games than he does the Cowboys. A cynical conspiracy theorist would say that's just fine, as it's about time to "organically tank'' in these final three games in order to boost draft position.
Maybe the Cowboys can achieve multiple goals as this disappointing season winds down. Can meaningless games be lost while a player like Moore is being evaluated? In 2016, when Romo is the No. 1 guy again, should Moore be on the pile of candidates that, considering all speculation, might include Cassel and practice-squadder Jameill Showers, young headline-grabbers Robert Griffin III and Johnny Manziel (see "The Turtle and The Scorpion'' here) and draft prospects like Paxton Lynch, Jared Goff and Carson Wentz? (Here's KD Drummond on the idea of Dallas drafting a QB ... and which NFL teams might also be in the market.)
"He's a cool customer,'' Linehan said of Moore.
"He's got that paper-boy look about him,'' Garrett said of Moore. "But he prepares himself well. He's a real professional. He's an interesting guy because he doesn't wow you with physical ability but his track record as a player, certainly in college, speaks for itself. He's very productive and knows how to play, knows how to win, and I think he demonstrates that even on scout-team situations.''
And maybe, if the circumstances play out as expected, Kellen Moore will get a chance to demonstrate that in a real situation.