By John Helsley
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Brandon Weeden’s rapid ascent among the nation’s top quarterbacks has been just that — rapid.
Even among Cowboys coaches, Weeden’s rise to this level of play, which frankly doesn’t get much better, was hardly a given.
Remember last year’s Colorado game, when Alex Cate, not Weeden, got the call to start when Zac Robinson was injured?
Remember the Oklahoma game and the Cotton Bowl, when it was apparent Robinson wasn’t right, how Weeden never got a shot, even though he was superb in leading a second-half rally past Colorado?
OSU coaches didn’t turn to Weeden because they just weren’t sure what they had in Weeden.
“He did zero to ever make us think he could perform well the last two years,” Cowboys coach Mike Gundy said this week. “We tried to give him the (backup) job for the last 2 1/2 years. He just never took it.”
Gundy said the uncertainty attached to Weeden from the moment he arrived as a walk-on trying a new career following a stint in pro baseball.
“We knew we had a big, strong athlete who had some ability,” Gundy said. “You don’t go in the second round of the Major League draft if you don’t have some skill. But we didn’t know whether he would pan out. Playing minor league ball is one thing, being involved in a major college football program, where you have discipline all year round and offseason workouts and all the things you go through just to be a player, is another. Sometimes, those guys don’t make it.
“But he hung around and worked through it and was there. He’s matured a little bit and gotten better. And he’s playing in an offensive system that fits his style and fits his ability.”
During Weeden’s early years, when he admits his attention to detail suffered as he waited for Robinson’s time with the Cowboys to expire, there was some doubt if he’d ever fully engage.
“He was kind of like a cat that’s a stray,” Gundy said. “You put some milk out and he just keeps coming back every day. Well, he just kept coming back every day. He didn’t look very good at practice and he wasn’t into it very much mentally.
“We’d jump on him and he’d just turn around and walk off. And later that day, he’d go hit some drivers at the driving range. And he’d come back the next day.
“That was just his temperament; that’s what his body language was. But he was never in a situation where we felt like he wasn’t going to make it. He was always at offseason workouts. He lifted hard. He performed and ran. We tried to make things tough on him, but he wouldn’t leave. But he never really did anything to make us think he was going to be any good.”
Heading into spring, Weeden figureed to battle freshmen Clint Chelf, Johnny Deaton and Nate Sorenson for the starting job. But the battle never materialized, as Weeden thrived in the opportunity to finally be “the guy.”
“I knew I had a big guy who had a strong arm and could throw really well and throws a nice spiral and accurate. That’s all I knew,” Gundy said about pre-spring perception of Weeden. “I didn’t know anything about him as a competitor, I didn’t know anything his toughness, his leadership skills. We didn’t have any answers in that area.”
Now they do. And the answers, and Weeden’s play, are off the chart.