IRVING (AP) – Like any backup who knows his role, Brandon Weeden happily stepped aside when Tony Romo wanted to take some first-team snaps on the opening day of minicamp for the Dallas Cowboys.
There was just one problem: Weeden’s jersey wouldn’t fit.
Romo, still recovering from back surgery, tried to sneak in some unauthorized practice time with a number swap Tuesday and had to settle for the No. 7 of Caleb Hanie, another backup.
It didn’t work because coach Jason Garrett caught on, and it looks as if No. 9 won’t get the all-clear until training camp. With Kyle Orton failing to show up for the first mandatory practice of the offseason, that leaves Weeden as the de facto starter.
This is the same Weeden who just flamed out in Cleveland, less than two years after he was drafted in the first round. And the Cowboys are six months removed from having to use Orton in a playoffs-or-bust finale after Romo injured his back in a season-saving win a week earlier.
For any Browns fans who are wondering, Weeden didn’t enter a witness protection program. He’s still No. 3. And he’ll be ready if needed.
“Those scars are healed,” said Weeden, who was 5-15 as the starter in Cleveland and had more interceptions than touchdowns in two seasons. “I enjoyed my two years, met some good buddies, had some great teammates. But honestly, I’ve moved on.”
As long as Romo’s rehab keeps going as smoothly as everyone says it is, Weeden won’t have to be “the guy” like he was after the quarterback-starved Browns took him at No. 22 in 2012, the same spot they used to get Johnny Manziel this year.
Weeden is trying to imagine what the Johnny Football hype is like in his old football home, but he’s been swarmed by plenty of reporters in the Cowboys’ locker room. And he’s not even the starter. The Cowboys didn’t sign him until reports surfaced that Orton was considering retirement.
“Whether it’s the backup or third string, I was going to come in and compete,” Weeden said. “I think I told coach Garrett 15 times, I just want to come in and compete.”
Weeden isn’t the typical player with just two years of NFL experience. He’s 30, and he was a minor league pitcher for two other high-profile organizations in professional sports — the Yankees and Dodgers.
He figures his age alone could explain why he still has a shot at a pro football career.
“Not only that, but what I had been through in baseball,” he said. “I’d give up too many home runs. That’s why I was playing football. My ERA had been high enough, you know? My confidence is still high. I’m still excited to play this game.”
Orton is only a year older than Weeden but has 50 more NFL starts and seven more years of experience. He has a year remaining on his contract and faces fines totaling about $70,000 if he misses the entire minicamp.
Orton’s absence is complicated by the arrival of Scott Linehan, the third play-caller in as many seasons for Dallas.
“My focus has just been on the guys that are here,” Linehan said. “I think it’s been great for Brandon. I think it’s been great for Caleb. These guys have really grown on me with their progress in our offense.”
Dallas liked Weeden when he was coming out of Oklahoma State and had just led those Cowboys to their first BCS bowl. Garrett said he had “by far” the best arm in his draft class, and the former Dallas backup believes he knows how to build successful quarterbacks.
“It’s just levels of confidence at that position,” Garrett said. “He’s a relatively young quarterback. He just needs to play football and get comfortable in the system and go out there and practice and make mistakes, make plays, learn from both of them and keep going.”
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