I keep calling this the "Preseason Super Bowl'' because of the relative magnitude of the game. National TV (ESPN, 7 p.m., with me part of the crew bringing you the game on 105.3 The Fan), the first such televised exhibition game, the high profile of the Dallas Cowboys, the return "home'' of the Rams, the connection Jerry Jones has with making it all happen ...
But to two guys, it's a "Preseason Super Bowl'' for another reason.
“Now we get to see them with the lights on,'' says Tony Romo of his two young QB understudies, Dak Prescott and Jameill Showers. "I’m excited for them to go out there and play. If they continue to get better like they are, they both got a great future.”
Ah, but let's not get ahead of ourselves. It was only months, weeks, days ago that the fourth-round rookie Prescott and the second-year practice-squadder Showers were viewed as "projects,'' so much so that Dallas spent effort on making sure they don't yet rise to second-string. Matt Moore in free agency. Kellen Moore as a carry-over (before his broken ankle at camp erased him as a candidate). Nick Foles the night of Moore's injury. Josh McCown the next morning -- with only Cleveland's draft-pick asking price separating the Texas native from getting to wear the same uniform as his boyhood hero Roger Staubach.
And suddenly not only is Prescott ready ... but Showers is ready, too? The Cowboys have found it almost impossible to develop a young QB in years ... but now they've done it twice in a week?!
Says Cowboys owner Jerry Jones: "I'm more encouraged after this,'' he said of Prescott and Showers work in the Blue-White Scrimmage, "about holding a pat hand on a veteran. If we continue to see this kind of improvement...''
I say this is Jerry Poppins playin' possum. (See the Cowboys Premium truth about Dallas' QB hunt here.) But for now, Romo is largely playin' the role of cheerleading mentor, with Showers indicating to us that he's scheduled to play some of the second half with Prescott scheduled to play the bulk of the first and maybe more. (Worth noting as a "who's playing?'' tip for tonight: Last year in the preseason opener, Dez Bryant, Joe Randle and Romo all sat. Romo hasn't played in a preseason opener since 2012. There are reasons for Dez, Ezekiel Elliott, Romo, Sean Lee and a handful of others to stay in bubblewrap here.)
“You are going to be nervous,” Romo says, passing on the advice he plans to give to Prescott. “But that’s normal. Accept all the things that come with it. You are going to make a mistake here or there. Your job is to understand that happens leading in and go on to the next play.”
Showers has been "under the lights'' before, last summer, and did well enough that he hung on to a P-squad job in part because he was willing (and able) to also play special teams. Now he's a real QB ... something coach Bill Parcells wasn't sure Romo was as an undrafted rookie in 2003.
“I can remember Parcells meeting me at about the 30-yard line on the field when I made a mistake,” Romo says. “I came in against the Cardinals in the fourth quarter (of a preseason game). We hadn’t done much offensively in that game. I had a shovel pass that hit off one of the refs I believe and it got intercepted. I don’t think he liked that at the time.”
With Romo, it took time for the cake to bake. With Dak and Jameill, the Cowboys' demands at the position might not allow them such time. Sure, this game (and the rest of the summer) is big for dozens of other Cowboys. Based on what you've heard and I've seen at camp in Oxnard, we want to see kids Andy Jones and Chaz Green and Geoff Swaim and John Morris and Darius Jackson and David Irving. And we want to see more seasoned guys like Mo Claiborne and Brice Butler and Gavin Escobar. (And we'd like to see stars on Romo's level, too, as ill-advised as I think that would be for Dallas to expose them here).
But No. 2 QB can be the fulcrum upon which the entire 2016 season pivots. Get it right, you can remain in contention if the 36-year-old Romo goes down. Get it wrong, you can be 4-12 again.
Get your opportunities, then, and do something with them.
“I didn’t exactly perform up to the standard I think that we wanted,” Romo says of his first training camp. “That was my last chance for a year-and-a-half. It goes to show you don’t get too many opportunities to really show the staff and the organization if you’re ready and prepared. So you really have to take advantage of that and have to be at your best all the time.”
Now, eventually, Romo did get that shot. Exactly 10 years ago this weekend, in fact. Remember?
But back to tonight .... and the Romo Seal of Approval is a good start for Prescott and Showers.
“These guys really do a great job,” Romo says. “They are both hard working guys. They set themselves up for being successful. I think they will continue to do good things on the field. You see they are getting better.''
Dak is trying to keep his cool here.
"I just basically want to do what I've been doing at practice," he said. "There's no difference between practice and a game. I treat every time, every situation the same when I have a football in my hand."
Prescott is about to realize how right he might be to act that way, but how wrong he is in reality. Because now we get to see it with the lights on. In a "Preseason Super Bowl.''
Want more on Cowboys camp? Check out our Cowboys StarCast from the sidelines at practice in Oxnard ...