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Cowboys backup QB Jon Kitna turns 37 soon, but feels fresh after not taking a snap in '09

Jon Kitna has looked pretty good this preseason, especially for a quarterback pushing 37.

Then again, he's well rested.

Tony Romo took every snap for the Dallas Cowboys last season, the only NFL quarterback to do so. That made Kitna the only second-stringer stuck on the sideline every week.

But Kitna didn't just watch and wait. He put his down time to good use.

Having absorbed 129 sacks the previous three seasons with Detroit, he spent the fall getting over lingering bumps and bruises. He became more familiar with the playbook and with his new teammates. He also encouraged Romo to keep going out, even for the routine handoffs at the end of blowouts.

"It's one of those things that when you get done with your playing career, you can look back and say, 'That was pretty special,'" Kitna said. "Being able to take every snap, that's pretty rare. ... I was happy he got to do it."

Kitna knows the thrill because he's among the handful of players to pull it off in recent years.

"Twice," he said, smiling.

Kitna and Romo are among nine players who went through a season taking every snap among quarterbacks — thus, discounting wildcat plays and other gimmicks — since 2006, according to research by STATS LLC. Their data by snaps dates to 2006.

Using attempts as the standard, STATS found 36 instances since 1990 where a single quarterback threw every pass. That includes Kitna in 2003 with Cincinnati and '06 with Detroit, and Romo last season.

Kitna's inactivity made him a bit of an unknown for the Cowboys this season. It was especially worrisome for team owner Jerry Jones because he remembers how the offense dropped off during the three games in 2008 when aging backup Brad Johnson replaced an injured Romo.

The Cowboys went 1-2, with one of the losses to a St. Louis team that lost its remaining 10 games. Dallas ended up one win shy of making the playoffs.

So after seeing Kitna against San Diego last weekend — 9 of 15 for 84 yards and a tying touchdown in the fourth quarter, with no sacks or turnovers — Jones declared, "I'm going to sleep better about quarterback tonight than I've slept this year."

"I thought Kitna did an outstanding job," Jones said. "He scrambled out, had some pressure on him, and threw the ball out of bounds — that's what you want to see. You can't get that in practice with that kind of pressure. You want to make sure when you're 37, you've got your legs and he's got his legs."

Kitna, who turns 37 next month, understands the owner being curious about whether age has caught up to him.

"Anybody who is over 35, you don't know — at any position," Kitna said. "But I've been around some guys who've done it a long time. Warren Moon, he taught me how to take care of your body during the week so you can be ready to play on Sunday."

Kitna came to training camp feeling fresh, not stale. Rather than having lost a step, his reaction time actually is faster because of his time with the team.

"It's the terminology," he said. "We have plays that are called one thing here that meant something totally different others places I had been. So I had to reprogram my mind. When you're doing that, you get up to the line of scrimmage and you're not quite sure. If you're thinking about the play, then you're not going through the mental process of what you have to do once the play starts. Now, that's over for me. I can immediately draw the picture in my mind when the play is called and just play the game."

That is, if you get in the game.

Kitna's last regular-season snap was Oct. 5, 2008. He missed the final 12 games of that season with a back injury.

The flip side is that the lack of wear and tear could extend his career. He's under contract through next season.

Longevity is a source of pride for Kitna, as well it should be. He's a former Central Washington star who wasn't drafted, was invited to only one NFL training camp, spent a year on Seattle's practice squad, a season in the World League and was the NFL's Comeback Player of the Year in 2003.

"I came into this league hoping to get one year," he said. "My wife and I, we'd been married two years and we wanted to get out of debt. ... Going into year 15, I never would've dreamt that. So I don't even think much about how long I'm going to play. I just think that when the time is done, God will close the door."