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Inside Practice: Dak, Romo And Do The Cowboys Now Have 2 Gameplans?

Inside Cowboys Practice: What-You-Need-To-Know Truths About DB Problems, About TE Juggling And About Dak And Romo And ... Does Dallas Now Have Two Gameplans?

FRISCO -- “Dak’s reps will not change,” Dallas Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said on Wednesday in previewing the week of practice work. 

Garrett, a person of character, is no liar. But I'll have to label this a "half-truth,'' or a "lie by omission.''

Sources inside of The Star in Frisco tell me that in fact, Dallas has made a major adjustment in terms of what it does at quarterback in the wake of Dak Prescott's emergence as the starter and Tony Romo's resurgence as a contributor.

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Normally, the Cowboys' first-team QB takes virtually all the reps during practice week. That's what Romo did under Garrett when he was the starter, and it's what Dak's been doing for nine weeks in helping engineer Dallas' NFL-best 8-1 record. All the reps ... and then No. 2 guy Mark Sanchez was running the scout team and then on Friday getting five-or-so first-team reps.

But this week? In addition to Romo serving as the scout-team QB (again, standard operating procedure for Garrett's No. 2 guy to do so), I believe Romo has also taken a healthy percentage of the first-team reps -- many fewer than Prescott, but healthy nevertheless -- with a chunk of those being part of extended work to accommodate to this unusual circumstance.

Some of this was mapped out in a Romo/Garrett meeting on Wednesday morning after in the previous two days it was made clear that Romo's desire to "compete'' for the job -- something I revealed back in the first week of November -- was not part of the present plan.

“He and I had really good visits about the focus that he needs to have today in preparing for what his role is going to be on Sunday if all goes well this week,” Garrett said. “So I thought he handled himself well, but again his focus and our focus is on today and our preparation for Baltimore.”

How did Garrett tell Romo to respond?

“Prepare to play,” Garrett told him.

But wait: If I reported on Romo's Nov. 7 desire to have a "competition,'' and about 10 days later he's making a "concession'' ... what happened? Simple: A competition would've been won by Romo. Easily. But at this time, management wants to go with the "hot hand.'' And owner Jerry Jones, speaking for the braintrust, said that's an "easy'' and "obvious'' decision, too.

So, "Prepare to Play.'' And here's how the Cowboys are helping Romo do so: Prescott is the starter. He's getting the large percent of the practice work. Romo is the scout-team guy, and that helps the first-team defense get its Baltimore work while also upping Romo's conditioning after not being in game action since breaking a bone in his back on Aug. 25. But in addition to all of that, there is another percent or so of work being done by Romo with Dallas' first-team offense.

It is 80/20 or 90/10? I don't know. But offensive coodinator Scott Linehan, in a conversation with me, did hint that it might be in that range. And he did concede that there are slight differences in how Dak's sessions go and how Romo's sessions go.

How so? Linehan's offense as overseen by Prescott (featuring some read-option, some moving pocket and some acceptance of throwing early rather than picking through the complications of progressions) is different than Linehan's offense as overseen by Romo (more decisions at the line, less reliance on mobility.) I'll even bet that when Romo does scout team and mimics Big Ben or Flacco, he's making those same decisions at the line of scrimmage, pointing out blocking assignments, changing routes, shifting plays ... and then shifting back again.

It is not a slap at Dak to say that rookies who've been starting for 10 weeks don't do this like veterans who've been starting for 10 years.

So yes, in a very real way, sources tell me, however one wants to play semantics, the Dallas Cowboys are making time to run "two offenses'' at practice.

There is another offensive wrinkle unfolding behind the scenes: With Geoff Swaim (pec) done for the year, Vince Mayle is up from the practice squad. Can he play tight end? Kinda, though he tells me he's 6-3, 225, and not the "240 pounds'' some imagine. Maybe also tells me that his work remains largely as a wideout, hinting that "third tight end'' isn't yet a big part of the demands on him. Dallas instead could use him as a "blocking receiver'' without lining him up tight to the line ... and could use an extra O-lineman when that third TE is needed.

On the defensive side of the ball? This is less a "wrinkle'' and more a "problem.'' Barry Church has a broken arm. Maybe we see him in a month. Mo Claiborne has a groin-related problem, and it could be long-term. And even if he comes back, it's unlikely to be in Pro Bowl-form, as he was before the injury. And Orlando Scandrick simply isn't right physically; Cowboys coaches know he graded out poorly in Pittsburgh.

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Rod Marinelli's D has relied not on upfront pressure but rather on coverage; this three-man rush/eight-man coverage alignment works because Dallas has cover guys -- or "had.'' Byron Jones can help at corner, but you lose his gifts as a safety. Scandrick can get healthier ... maybe. Leon McFadden learning on the job while just up from the P-Squad? These are the available coverage answers that may end up putting more pressure for this club to be carried by the Cowboys' offense -- or rather, by the Cowboys' "two offenses.''


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