Backup quarterback discussions rarely move the needle, unless you live in Philadelphia, but seeing as it is May, and the acquisition of a depth quarterback piece is kinda in my wheelhouse, you’re getting some thoughts on Cooper Rush today kids. Now this might want to make some of you stream for the exits, leaving Vapor Trails behind. And I know that looking for feedback on this piece might amount to nothing more than a Test for Echo, but this is my job, so I’m gonna Roll the Bones here and hope I do not make any Permanent Waves.
(Look I went a long way for that joke that many of you will ignore, and I feel pretty good about it).
But the New York Giants have indeed added to their quarterback room, signing Cooper Rush after the Dallas Cowboys acquired Andy Dalton. Rush, who has thrown just three regular season passes in his three years of NFL experience, joins a crowded quarterback room. Behind Daniel Jones, the team has Alex Tanney (the only holdover from last season) and three new faces: Rush, Colt McCoy and undrafted free agent Case Cookus.
However, there is a possibility that Rush might be the most important acquisition of them all, on a specific future timeline.
First, let’s start with Rush as a draft prospect. Coming out of Central Michigan not many were wise to what Rush offered in the NFL. In his pre-draft profile of him, Lance Zierlein compared him to, of all people, Kellen Moore (his future offensive coordinator) and praised Rush for the cerebral nature of his play. Zierlein wrote:
Defined by cerebral approach. Has bachelor of science degree in actuarial science off-the-field and masters in full-field reads on the field. Juggernaut in film room. Hits the field with well-conceived plans of attack based on his studies. Makes all the pre-snap decisions rather than looking to sideline. Quick processor able to scan and decide rapidly. Interceptions rarely the result of poor decisions. Overcomes arm deficiencies with outstanding timing and accuracy. Anticipatory thrower with feel for developing windows. Able to lead receivers on crossing routes and long balls and can throw receivers open underneath. Very good natural accuracy. Completion percentage penalized by excessive drop totals. Good pocket poise. Climbs pocket with eyes downfield when heat comes around the corners and can slide left or right before delivering accurate strikes. Has history from under center in play-action, pro-style attack and works all three levels of the field. Dump-downs are only a final option.
Rush went undrafted in 2017, and was signed by the Cowboys as an undrafted free agent. Despite his status as an undrafted player, Rushgot an opportunity to win the third-string job when Zac Dysert suffered a herniated disc, leaving Rush to compete with Luke McCown for that third spot. Thanks to some strong performances in the preseason, Rush did win that third spot, and slotted in behind Dak Prescott and Moore on the Cowboys’ depth chart.
But over time, Rush showed more and more potential. So much so that by midway through the 2017 campaign the team released Moore and signed him back to their practice squad, elevating Rush to the backup role behind Prescott, which is where he stayed until recently.
Part of the basis for that elevation? Well, Zierlein nailed it in his pre-draft write up: His ability to work in the downfield game with touch, especially off of play-action.
Take this preseason touchdown pass against the Oakland Raiders. The Cowboys align with 12 offensive personnel, putting two tight ends in the game in a YY wing to the right. Working off of play-action, Rush just has two routes to choose from, and he throws the deeper post route:
Rush drops in a perfect throw for the touchdown. When you watch this on the replay angle, pay attention to how the quarterback sells the run fake, getting the play side safety to bite just enough to create an angle for the receiver to get over the top of him:
Then there is this touchdown throw, against the Los Angeles Rams. Once more, the Cowboys line up with 12 offensive personnel, putting both tight ends to the left in that same YY wing look. This time, Rush throws a double-move to his tight end, who shows an out route before breaking vertically up the seam:
On this throw we see the anticipation and touch in the vertical passing game, something that Zierlein also highlighted in his pre-draft report on him.
So that is what Rush offers, based on study of the limited film available on him.
But there is something else he brings to the table, and it harkens back again to Zierlein’s pre-draft report on the quarterback: His cerebral nature.
Remember, the Giants added Rush’s former head coach, Jason Garrett, to be their offensive coordinator. This has lead to many a piece outlining how the Giants’ offense might take on more of a vertical nature, given Garrett’s background in the Air Coryell system. It led to studies of both McCoy and Cookus, and how they might mesh with such an offensive play style. We can also see how Rush, based on his limited action, might fit in such a system.
But Rush has another advantage: His hands-on experience with what we can imagine the Giants’ playbook will look like.
In other years that might just be an advantage. In 2020 it might be much more than that.
It is true, the NFL released the 2020 schedule just last week, and in large part it looks like your usual NFL schedule. But even that was a bit of a surprise, as many expected the league to do more to prepare for a potential delay to the season given the COVID-19 crisis that is still playing out from state to state. While the country is starting to come back online after taking steps to mitigate the spread of this novel virus, there is no guarantee that we will see a traditional NFL preseason. Usually by now we have seen rookie minicamps and other team activities. For example, last season the Giants began Phase 1 of their offseason program on April 15, 2019. Rookie minicamp ran from May 3, 2019 to May 5, 2019. Then OTAs took place on the following dates: May 20-21, May 23, May 28-29, May 31, June 10-13, with a mandatory team minicamp running from June 4 to June 6.
None of that has taken place yet, and we still do not know when team facilities are even going to be opened.
So there is a chance, even if the league starts the 2020 season as schedule, that teams are going to have to make do with limited preseason activities. That means players with direct knowledge of a team’s playbook - and experience in that system - are going to have certain advantages over players at the same position. Further still, those players might be more valuable to teams.
Take, for example, what the New England Patriots have done at the quarterback position this offseason. After losing Tom Brady they ignored other veteran options - including Dalton - and signed Brian Hoyer. Now, the Patriots might not be the best example, given their limited cap space, but as they look to transition to Jarrett Stidham, their other quarterback move (aside from their UDFA quarterbacks in Brian Lewerke and J’Marr Smith) was to add a veteran with years of experience running New England’s offense.
Rush is the Giants’ version of Hoyer. A player who knows the system and, if necessary, can step in given limited practice and preseason time and run the offense.
In the new world, that kind of player might be more valuable than you think.