IRVING, Texas - Throughout his tenure with the Cowboys, Kyle Orton has kept a low profile. He has rarely been quoted or interviewed since signing with the team in March 2012.
But that changed Wednesday when reporters and cameramen blitzed the quarterback like a pack of rushers, surrounding the ninth-year veteran at his locker.
With Tony Romo's status in doubt because of a herniated disk in his back, Orton is expected to make his first start with the Cowboys in a game against the Eagles that will determine whether Dallas wins the NFC East or fails to make the playoffs for the fourth consecutive season.
"I'm excited," Orton said. "I really feel like my game is in a great spot right now, and I'm really confident heading into the week. . . . I've played a lot of games in this league and had some success, so I'm just excited with the group of guys I've got around me."
It's true that Orton has a lot of experience. At 31, he's made 69 starts and won 35 of them. He also served as the caretaker of the offense during organized team activities last spring, when Romo was recovering from a surgical procedure to remove a cyst in his back.
But since coming to Dallas, Orton has thrown only 15 passes in the regular season. As the Cowboys' backup quarterback, he's spent most of his time running the scout team while Romo practiced with the first team.
This week has been different, however. Romo, who has greater influence over the game plans than he's had at any previous point in his career, didn't attend the offensive meetings Wednesday morning as he continues to experience discomfort in his back since it flared up during Dallas' 24-23 victory Sunday over Washington.
"Kyle knows that he has to be ready," coach Jason Garrett said Monday. "Kyle prepares as if he's the starting quarterback each and every week. He has a poise and a calmness and a composure about him of a veteran player. He's been there. He's seen this stuff before."
But the situation Orton finds himself in is a challenging one. Babe Laufenberg, the former Cowboys quarterback and current radio analyst for the team's flagship station, knows. Twenty-three years ago, he was put in a similar position as Orton.
In a Week 16 loss to the Eagles in 1990, Troy Aikman suffered a right shoulder separation, forcing Laufenberg into action. He took the rest of the snaps that day, then was named the starter for the final game against Atlanta, which was a high-stakes affair. If the Cowboys beat the Falcons, they would make the postseason for the first time since 1985. If they lost, they would spend the rest of the winter at home. There was a lot of pressure on Laufenberg to deliver a victory.
"It's what you aspire for," he said. "You get a chance to be part of one game and get your team in the playoffs."
But it didn't go well for Laufenberg and the Cowboys. He completed 10 of 24 attempts for 129 yards, throwing two interceptions and a touchdown pass in a 26-7 loss. The following summer he was cut from the team.
Reflecting on that experience, Laufenberg said, "I think the further you get away from training camp and getting legitimate reps, I think the more difficult it becomes."
Orton is at a similar disadvantage lurking in Romo's broad shadow. But he said he has a firm grasp of the offense, a strong rapport with the receivers and the confidence he can perform.
"I've been here a couple of years," Orton said. "It's not like I just walked in the door."
When the Cowboys signed Orton to a three-year, $10.5 million contract in 2012, they were in the market for an experienced player who could capably direct the offense in the event that Romo was hurt. In the two previous seasons, Romo had suffered a broken left collarbone, a fractured rib and a punctured lung.
But since Orton's arrival, Romo has remained in good enough condition to play every game. Now that Romo is injured again, the Cowboys have turned to Orton, their emergency option.
"He's probably been waiting for this for a while," receiver Cole Beasley said. "He's just ready for the opportunity." Back in the spotlight with the season hanging in the balance, all eyes are on Orton. That's fine with him.
"I'll be ready to roll and go out there and play great," he said.
As the understudy, he knows as well as anyone the show must go on.