White smoke emanated from The Star on Saturday as the Dallas Cowboys reportedly settled on its fourth starting quarterback this season.
According to NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero, the “plan” is for Garrett Gilbert to lead the offense against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 9, with Cooper Rush — who must be elevated from the practice squad — serving as his backup at AT&T Stadium.
Pelissero notes that Gilbert received the “majority” of practice reps while NFL Network insider Ian Rapoport first reported Wednesday the Cowboys were “leaning towards” entrusting the former Alliance of American Football (AAF) star versus the league’s last unbeaten.
“I feel like it’s my job to go out there and perform and execute our game plan. And so, you know, what I bring to the table, I think that’s less important than just understanding what my job is and being the best quarterback I can be for this team,” Gilbert told reporters Thursday.
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The decision was handed down after the Cowboys opted to bench rookie QB Ben DiNucci following a sloppy, turnover-filled starting debut in last week’s loss to Philadelphia. ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler believes Gilbert will represent a “change of pace” from DiNucci and Rush, a notion likely rooted in Dallas head coach Mike McCarthy’s assessment of the injury-ruined position.
“This won’t be a statistical decision. This is really based off of the rhythm and continuity and command,” McCarthy said Thursday. “We need to make sure we exercise our game plan against the Steelers defense.
“Obviously, Garrett has a little more current experience than Cooper because he’s been here (longer). We’re just working through all that. But my goal is just to make sure both guys are ready for Sunday.”
Fortunately for Gilbert, his stint as the sacrificial lamb is expected to be brief. The club anticipates veteran No. 2 signal-caller Andy Dalton, who’s on the reserve/COVID-19 list and assumingly remains in concussion protocol, will retake the job after the 2-6 Cowboys emerge from their Week 10 bye.
“He’s doing fine. We’ll see how goes throughout the time he’s on this COVID list, but I think by the end of next week we’ll be able to see him again,” McCarthy said of Dalton on Tuesday.
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Background on Gilbert
Technically a third-year journeyman, Gilbert entered the league in 2014 as a sixth-round draft pick of the then-St. Louis Rams. Gilbert bounced to the New England Patriots during his rookie campaign, where he earned a Super Bowl ring as a member of their practice squad.
His “star” eventually fading on the taxi squad circuit, Gilbert took his talents to the AAF’s Orlando Apollos, drafted in November 2018. He started the Apollos’ first-ever game and won Offensive Player of the Week with a 393-yard, two-touchdown effort in Orlando’s second contest. Gilbert led the AAF in passing yards (2,152), attempts (259), completions (157), and passer rating (99.1), and ranked second in TD passes (13), when the league shuttered football operations in April 2019.
He joined the Cleveland Browns days after the AAF folded and made five appearances last year. Retained for 2020, Gilbert was waived by Cleveland on Sept. 5 and re-signed to the practice team, from which Dallas plucked him last month.
Altogether, Gilbert has 40 yards and two completions to his name across six career games.
An Austin native, the 27-year-old played collegiately at Texas and SMU. He went 305-of-538 for 3,301 yards, 13 TDs, and 23 interceptions for the Longhorns and 603-of-1,010 for 6,460 yards, 36 TDs, and 22 INTs for the Mustangs, stacking several single-game passing records.
Follow Zack Kelberman on Twitter: @KelbermanNFL