Kellen Moore’s NFL career has hit an unexpected challenge this preseason that could place him on the Dallas Cowboys’ roster bubble next week.
Moore, the former Boise State star and Heisman Trophy finalist, has played inconsistently through three preseason games as the backup while undrafted rookie Cooper Rush has shredded third-string defenses.
The lopsided stat comparison has led some NFL media members and Cowboys fans who never were convinced the undersized Moore was a viable NFL quarterback to insist that Rush should be the backup.
The Cowboys fueled that conversation this week by splitting second-team snaps between Moore and Rush. They play the Oakland Raiders at 6 p.m. Saturday (replay at 10 p.m. on NFL Network).
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“I think (Rush) has earned more reps how he has played,” offensive coordinator Scott Linehan said, according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. “I think we feel like he is really coming along. We have two more preseason games. We are going to continue to play the guys as much equally as we can. And all our decisions come at the end of camp.”
Rush is 26-for-38 for 283 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions this preseason. He has a quarterback rating of 125.2.
Moore is 30-for-55 for 382 yards with one touchdown and one interception. His rating is 75.0.
Somewhat forgotten is that Moore impressed in the preseason opener, when he was 12-for-17 for 182 yards after missing all of last preseason and regular season with a broken ankle. But he is 18-for-38 for 200 yards in the past two games without a TD. He lost a fumble for a touchdown last week.
Also of note: Moore at times outplayed the backup in front of him in preseason when he was a third-stringer in Detroit. That never changed the depth chart.
Still, Moore’s struggles have put his job on the line during the one season that he seemed to have a solid spot when training camp began. The former undrafted free agent fought for roster spots in Detroit from 2012 to 2014. He was cut by the Lions in 2015 but his former coordinator, Linehan, helped get him a spot on the Cowboys roster that fall. By season’s end, Moore started two games because of injuries and threw for 435 yards against the Washington Redskins in his last game.
If Moore hadn’t gotten injured in the 2016 training camp, he likely would have been in the same spot as this year — trying to fend off an impressive rookie. Dak Prescott, now the starter, was a rookie last year.
The media in Dallas still seem skeptical that the Cowboys will enter the season with Rush as the backup. The coaches and owner Jerry Jones value Moore’s experience and knowledge of the offensive system.
But if Moore struggles again Saturday night, his stay in the NFL could be in jeopardy.
College football spotlight
The season begins Saturday with five games — and four of them should be of interest to Boise State fans.
Colorado State, expected to challenge Boise State in the Mountain West Mountain Division, opens its new stadium against Oregon State (12:30 p.m, CBS Sports Network). BYU, which plays Boise State in October, hosts Portland State (1 p.m., ESPN) — a warmup before the Cougars take on LSU. Hawaii of the Mountain West travels to UMass. And No. 19 South Florida — the only Group of Five team ranked in the AP preseason poll — travels to Mountain West member San Jose State (5:30 p.m., CBS Sports Network).
College football pick of the week
South Florida (-22) at San Jose State: The Bulls’ 11-2 record last season and the return of dynamic quarterback Quinton Flowers already has the town talking about an undefeated season. There’s a new coach, but it’s the proven Charlie Strong. San Jose State is coming off a 4-8 season, has an unproven new coach, an unproven set of coordinators and an unsettled quarterback position. Unless the Spartans stall — think 2006 vs. Boise State — this looks like a blowout.
The next seven days are important in the NFL, with teams giving their starters the most playing time of the preseason this week and final roster spots on the line during the preseason finales next week. All of next week’s games will be played on Thursday. Rams-Packers on NFL Network will be an intriguing game because former BYU quarterback Taysom Hill of Pocatello likely will play extensively. Hill has impressed this preseason while trying to earn the No. 3 QB job in Green Bay.
Broncos in the NFL
▪ Dolphins running back Jay Ajayi carried nine times for 53 yards and two touchdowns on Thursday.
▪ Offensive linemen Charles Leno and Matt Paradis were late-round picks in the 2014 NFL Draft. Now both are in enviable spots. Leno, a seventh-round pick, just signed a four-year contract with a reported $21.5 million guaranteed. He’s the starting left tackle for the Bears. Paradis, a sixth-round pick, is considered by some the best center in the NFL. He’ll be a restricted free agent at the end of the season, which positions the former walk-on to get paid, too.