GOLDEN: COW­BOYS’ MCGEE KNOWS ROLE

Mcgee is do­ing his best to be­come Romo’s No. 2 as quickly as pos­si­ble

Austin American-Statesman - - FRONT PAGE -

SAN AN­TO­NIO — Stephen McGee fin­ished his wind sprints, then went back to his fa­vorite hobby: throw­ing the foot­ball.

The tar­get was wide­out Jesse Hol­ley, who was stand­ing 20 yards away from the line of scrim­mage, on the left side­line. McGee took a seven-step drop and de­liv­ered a crisp pass. Right on tar­get.

“That was much bet­ter,’’ came a voice from five yards away. “Good due re­spect to linebacker DeMar­cus Ware, start­ing quar­ter­back Tony Romo is the most im­por­tant player wear­ing a Cow­boys uni­form these days, and he is one of those play­ers who would be next to im­pos­si­ble to re­place if he got hurt.

But if he does wind up on the in­jured list, the backup quar­ter­back moves way up on the pri­or­ity list. So does the third stringer. That’s where McGee comes in. Jor­dan Ship­ley’s for­mer pass­ing-game part­ner at Burnet High is out to un­seat vet­eran Jon Kitna as Romo’s backup, a goal that’s eas­ier said than done, given Kitna’s vast edge in ex­pe­ri­ence and his knowl­edge of NFL de­fenses. With his sec­ond NFL camp un­der way, McGee is mak­ing progress, and while it may not be enough to win the job, he’s still headed in the right di­rec­tion.

It hasn’t been easy. As the thirdteam quar­ter­back, McGee doesn’t get a lot of prac­tice time at camp, and when he does — to the tune job.”

The owner of those words will pocket $8.5 mil­lion in salary this sea­son.

Said owner also car­ries much of the Dal­las Cow­boys Su­per Bowl hopes on his right arm. With all

Con­tin­ued from C1 of a cou­ple of reps ev­ery 20 or 30 min­utes — he’s go­ing up against the starters of the NFC’s fourth-ranked de­fense in 2010. Not ex­actly a Tup­per­ware party with those guys.

“It’s been good for me,’’ McGee said. “I’ve had a lot of chal­lenges out there play­ing against the first-team de­fense. I know the looks we get in prac­tice will be as good as any looks we get any­where, so I’m just try­ing to stay on top things and take charge in the hud­dle.”

McGee be­lieves his sec­ond NFL train­ing camp is off to a bet­ter start than the first be­cause his knee is healthy this year, and the ex­pe­ri­ence of a train­ing camp is not new to him. He rel­ishes the time he’s spend­ing af­ter prac­tice with Romo and of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Ja­son Gar­rett, as well.

Romo has been in­struct­ing McGee on tech­ni­cal is­sues, such as the cor­rect po­si­tion­ing and bal­ance when drop­ping back to pass. Gar­rett has been all about the same things, while preach­ing the im­por­tance of the cor­rect reads in game sit­u­a­tions.

“The ma­tu­rity level of these young quar­ter­backs is im­por­tant,’’ Gar­rett said. “A big part of it is de­ci­sion­mak­ing, and that’s what to do when things are clean, and also what to do when things are not so clean. Some­times young quar­ter­backs think they have to make a big play on ev­ery sin­gle play when the smartest thing to do is throw the ball away.”

McGee is tak­ing those lessons to heart. Af­ter an­other solid throw to Hol­ley, Romo gave an­other nod of ap­proval, fol­lowed by some en­cour­age­ment from Gar­rett, and for a young quar­ter­back with no guar­an­tee of hav­ing a job this fall, pos­i­tive words are worth a mil­lion bucks. McGee may be low in the QB peck­ing or­der, but he’s start­ing to sound like a start­ing quar­ter­back when dis­cussing his job de­scrip­tion.

“We’re not al­ways go­ing to win the play,’’ he said, “but if I get the ball where it’s sup­posed to be, and I re­act right and don’t turn the ball over, that’s a good play for me.

“There may be peo­ple on the out­side say­ing that was a bad play by McGee, but in truth, it’s a good play.”

While McGee is still fig­ur­ing out the in­tri­ca­cies of the po­si­tion, the 37-year-old Kitna has the mar­ket cor­nered on ex­pe­ri­ence with 13 NFL sea­sons in his rearview mir­ror.

He hasn’t been par­tic­u­larly sharp at the start of camp, missing Thurs­day on sev­eral throws that a pol­ished NFL quar­ter­back would make with ease. That’s not a huge deal at this point be­cause this is the time of the year when vet­er­ans are iron­ing out the kinks, but it’s not an un­der­state­ment to say Kitna’s best play­ing days are be­hind him.

McGee could close the gap be­tween sec­ond-team and third-team quar­ter­back with a strong show­ing over the next few weeks.

Coach Wade Phillips said his sopho­more has “done some good things” over the last week, in­clud­ing Wed­nes­day morn­ing’s first prac­tice where he took the ma­jor­ity of the snaps, even though he re­port­edly air­mailed a hand­ful of throws dur­ing the work­out.

Kitna prob­a­bly isn’t look­ing over his shoul­der at this point, but we all know that a backup quar­ter­back keeps his suit­case packed. He won’t go as far as to say it, but McGee has plenty of con­fi­dence, as well he should. Who knows if he’s ready to be Romo’s backup? And for those with short mem­o­ries: Who knew a few years back that Romo would take Drew Bled­soe’s job?

“I’m just learn­ing ev­ery day and try­ing to get bet­ter,” he said. “That de­ci­sion is out of my hands. My job right now is to show im­prove­ment ev­ery week.”

You have to start some­where. The for­mer Texas A&M Ag­gie has started. Where he fin­ishes re­mains to be seen.

Ron Jenk­ins

Dal­las third-string quar­ter­back Stephen McGee prac­tices on Wed­nes­day. McGee is catch­ing the at­ten­tion of starter Tony Romo, whose pri­mary backup is still vet­eran Jon Kitna. McGee might not take over for Kitna to­mor­row, but the for­mer Texas A&M Ag­gie ap­pears to be headed in the right di­rec­tion.

CEDRIC GOLDEN

Tony Gu­tier­rez

Cow­boys quar­ter­back Tony Romo (9) and backup quar­ter­back Stephen McGee, left, pre­pare to pass dur­ing drills in a morn­ing prac­tice at train­ing camp on Sun­day.

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